Friday, July 18, 2014

Three Weeks Old and Growing!

The “C” Litter puppies are three weeks old and growing quickly! They’re eyes and ears are open, and they’re wobbling around on all four paws. If you’re lucky enough to catch them awake on the puppy cam, you’ll see them playing with each other and the baby toys in the whelping box.

Cosmo, Charcoal, Cameo, Clementine, Colt, Cookie Dough, and Colorado were born on June 23 to GEB Talent, from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Talent will be visiting SSD for three litters, and half her puppies will stay with us and the other half will return to Guiding Eyes for the Blind with their mother. Thank you to GEB for donating the litters to us!

And now, here are the long awaited portraits of the “C” puppies!


Monday, June 30, 2014

Lancaster County Courthouse's Newest Employee Has Four Paws

Lancaster County Courthouse has a new employee—and this one walks on four paws. SSD Hamlet has started working at the courthouse as a facility dog. He’ll be working with participants in the Veterans, Mental Health, and Drug Treatment Courts, and he’s only the second dog in the United States to work in the treatment courts. SSD Buster of York County was the first.

Hamlet’s job is to help reduce the stress and anxiety of participants going through the treatment courts. Unlike other working dogs, his harness does not include a “Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working” patch because part of his job includes being petted by individuals going through the court system. Research has shown that petting a dog and interacting with a dog can raise the levels of oxytocin in a person, which in turn helps decrease anxiety and stress.

“Traditionally, the court has been seen as ‘the hammer,’ a place of punishment and fear,” says Teri Miller-Landon, the Division Director of Special Supervision for Lancaster County Adult Probation and Parole and one of Hamlet’s primary handlers. “But the court is also about rehabilitation and assimilation.”

Having Hamlet there will help people see the court as a place of support, where they can find the resources they need so they can graduate from the program. When they see it as a positive place, they’re more likely to come to court for help.

Hamlet will be working in the courtroom once a week. The rest of the time, he will sit in on appointments with probation officers, offering his special form of canine support. He has been trained to do several tasks, including “visit” (resting his head in someone’s hand or lap), “lap” (putting his front legs on someone’s lap), and “place” (sitting between someone’s legs). And Hamlet sometimes adds a few doggy kisses when he’s performing a cue.  

Hamlet was officially introduced in court on June 26, and he’s already gaining a reputation as a source of support. After his court appearance, many people stopped by to pet him for a few moments. In fact, Hamlet’s presence at the courthouse is affecting more than just the participants in the treatment court. He is also helping to reduce the stress of court employees. A few moments with Hamlet after a stressful phone call or meeting can make all the difference.

When he’s not working at the courthouse, Hamlet lives with Karen Andreadis, the Treatment Court Coordinator for Lancaster County Adult Probation and Parole. He gets plenty of time to relax and just be a dog. We hear that he loves playing with Karen’s other dogs and taking his toys out to his favorite tree.

In case you missed it on June 26, here’s the news story about Hamlet’s official introduction in court.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Team Training and the People Behind the Scenes

Since Monday, five people have been learning how to work with their new service dogs. We’re in the midst of Team Training, a time when individuals receive their service dogs, learn all the cues and behaviors, and learn how to work in public as a team. This is a challenging, but amazing, two and a half weeks. You can see more photos from the week on our Facebook Page.

A lot of hard work and love goes into the training of each service dog, including over 20,000 volunteer hours. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make Team Training possible. Our new director Pam Foreman’s presentation from this year’s graduation gives a glimpse of the people who make Team Training and all of SSD possible. You’ll also learn a little more about Pam and the future of SSD.

May 2014 Graduation
presentation by Pam Foreman

It feels good to be here in this room with all of you tonight celebrating the work you have done and the good result of that work. 

I was told this would be a beautiful night, a wonderful celebration, and a moving tribute to many fabulous people and some pretty terrific dogs, and that certainly proved to be true.

When I was growing up and deciding what I wanted to do, I knew one thing.  I wanted to work with people.  I wanted to be part of something that allowed people, all of us, the opportunity to live our lives to the fullest, to live a good and rich life full of purpose and meaning and value.  In order to do that, I discovered, we need something called interdependence more than something called independence.  That’s what we have here.  That’s what we have in this room.  That’s what we have in this program.

I grew up in Keystone Human Services and consider myself fortunate that I did.  I started as an intern in my last year of college and stayed 33 years….and counting.  The mission and vision resonated with me then, and it resonates with me now.  I worked in the intellectual disabilities programs and had the great privilege to see many lives changed, including mine, over the course of those years.  I’ve witnessed the beauty and richness of life as people challenged themselves to be more and have more and do more and give more. It has been an honor.

Before I came to SSD, I was a bit infatuated with the program and excited about what it stood for.  I believed what it offered people to have the opportunities to be more fully engaged in their neighborhoods and communities, to live a life more like their family and friends, to engage in valued roles, and generally have a good life.  Since I started at SSD, that has been confirmed, and the infatuation and excitement only grew as I got to know Nancy, the staff, the dogs, and some of you sitting in the audience.

In a very short time I have come to deeply value my relationship with Nancy and what she has offered me, in sharing her knowledge and her faith in me to carry on.  It has humbled me and touched me and grown me.  My words truly fail in describing the gift of that. None of us would be celebrating what we are tonight if it were not for her….and her son wanting a dog all those years ago.   She established the foundation and reputation that will carry us forward.  And she promised me she’s only a phone call away.

The staff.  I have been energized by this impressive group of people and how they’ve welcomed me and what they’ve already taught me.  They are very good at what they do and it gives me great comfort knowing they are there.  Everyone has communicated to me their love for this program and their desire to take it as far as it can go.  They clearly understand, and acknowledge that it can go nowhere without all of you.
That brings me to the dedication of the volunteers.  Nowhere have I seen what I’ve seen here.  It is truly unprecedented and I sincerely stand in awe.  You are out there giving and giving and giving.  And you’re so good at what you do and an incredible representation of SSD.  I can’t wait to meet all of you and to learn from you.

The dogs.  They’re beautiful and fun and hardworking and it sure makes life a little better going to work knowing they’re around.

And clients, the person side of the team.  Resilient and strong and diligent—listening and learning and making it work.  You are why we do what we do and we’re honored to be a little part of your life story.  

The future definitely looks very good.  The number of litters, and dogs, is growing and the collaboration through Assistance Dogs International and the North America Breeding Cooperative is strong. We have impressive staff, proficient volunteers, amazing clients, wonderful hardworking dogs, and a new property that will allow us to grow and to showcase this remarkable program.

Interestingly, all those years ago when I was growing up, whenever I took those vocational aptitude tests in school, they always suggested I go into animal husbandry and agriculture.  Every time. True story.  So somehow it does seem full circle, and right, that I get to be exactly where I am right now.  I know it’s a good match for me. I hope it proves to be a good match for SSD.

Thank you all for being so gracious to me. Thank you for your dedication and perseverance, for being the heart and soul of what we’re all about.

I look forward to navigating this next phase of life, and SSD, with all of you.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Changing Lives through Small Acts

Guest post by Samantha Hodge-Williams

I am writing to celebrate Nancy Fierer, a uniquely generous woman.  I will always be grateful to Nancy, who changed my life path during a critical time.

In 1997, I became suddenly ill in college with a lifelong chronic, disabling condition.  Soon after, whilst trying to support me, my mother also became disabled.  We learned about service dogs and both applied to a local Baltimore area organization.  Unfortunately, not all service dog schools are created equal, and we found ourselves with two expensive, untrained dogs from a failed organization. 

After working independently with private trainers, I contacted Nancy in hopes of completing the Susquehanna Service Dogs transfer training and certification process for each of our dogs.  Nancy agreed that we could be tested and if we performed up to the SSD standard, they would include us in the transfer training and SSD certification.  We both passed.

Before attending SSD graduation, my canine companion and new “lifeline” suddenly had liver failure and died.  Despite my determination, perseverance and lifelong optimism, I found myself so grief-stricken by this final loss that I lashed out at loved ones and everything around me.  I had reached my breaking point, feeling so lost and needing to run away.

Nancy invited me to stay with her and Robert for a few weeks, to research my options for a new successor service dog. 

I remember arriving at her house and seeing her flats of impatiens out front.  Nancy said she’d been too busy to plant any, but would be happy to “employ” me to plant the impatiens in her garden if I liked during my stay.  This small job anchored me through the darkness.  Despite my physical limitations and grief, I could leisurely do this on my own.  Rather than drifting around her home like a grieving guest or client, I felt I had a purpose.  I slowly nestled impatiens in the nooks and crevices of her trees, enjoying the shady retreat and the dirt between my fingers.  I quietly watched the staff and dogs in training, whilst watering the buds.

It is now 13 years later.  Those few weeks stand out because I know that in my grief and anger, my life could have taken a very different fork.  However, Nancy’s kind and generous welcome and work nurtured me back toward hope.  After staying at LeSentier Lane, I was able to return home and subsequently be matched with my successor dog.  SSD Aslan now lies beside me, fully retired at 13 ½ after outstanding years of reliable, joyful service. 

Thank you, Nancy, for your generous and warm welcome during my toughest time.  You restored my sense of safety and hope when it mattered the most.  I wish you and Robert all the best in your well-deserved retirement.

Samantha Hodge-Williams has been partnered with Susquehanna Service Dogs since 2000.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Will to Make a Difference

Guest post by Valerie Hodge-Williams

I am writing to celebrate Nancy Fierer and to congratulate her on her retirement.

I met Nancy at a time in my life when my world was being turned upside down, by one devastating onslaught after another. Even though we were erstwhile strangers, Nancy, supported by Robert, reached out to help my daughter Samantha and me as we grappled with our chaotic health problems and shattered lives.  She supported and encouraged us, going the extra mile in several ways, to ensure Sam and I would become successful SSD partners and teams. 

Nancy once told me that she started SSD because she became involved with dog training and realized there was an unmet need for service dogs in the Harrisburg area. She described herself as being at a point in her life (with the unfailing support of her husband Robert) where she ‘could give something back’ to the community… and so she did.  She found others with a similar interest and together they started SSD.

As I write this, I think back to the way Nancy described her experience in those three short sentences. For her it was as simple as seeing a need and doing something about it (which she continued to do, day in and day out for the next twenty years) … because she "COULD."  However, SSD would never have come into being the way Nancy describes it. It wasn’t because she COULD. Most of us are in that position, one way or another, yet nothing happens. SSD came about, not because Nancy COULD see the need and COULD do something about it, but because she WOULD.  She took the first step and then the second and kept on doing that. She had the will and therefore, slowly found a way.

When all is said and done, the total impact of Nancy’s legacy at SSD can never be accurately assessed. Even now, its two-decade ripple-effect has a life of its own, changing and transforming lives as it touches them. For example, in our own small arena, my daughter and I have each been partnered in an SSD team for the past fourteen years. We each have successor dogs. I do not think we could have continued to live independently without the help of our dogs. Consequently, the lives of those who love us and would have to care for us are improved. We are often home-bound, yet I am amazed at how many people in our local town recognize us by our service dogs and can relate stories (often ones that I have forgotten) about watching each of us work as a team.  Not only are our lives improved by the SSD dogs, but our working team always brings a smile to the faces of those surrounding us.

In conclusion, my loved ones and I have benefitted on a daily basis because of Nancy’s vision, personal effort and generosity in founding, supporting, and directing SSD for the past 20 years.  She is a powerful example of someone who not only “COULD,” but “WOULD” improve thousands of lives through service.  An example and a legacy indeed!

Nancy and Robert: With love and very best wishes to you both as you start your next adventure!

… And… once more with feeling….       Thank-you! 

Valerie Hodge-Williams has been a partner of Susquehanna Service Dogs since 2000 when she was initially partnered with SSD Spirit. Following his retirement, she was partnered with her current successor dog, SSD Phoenix. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Things I Learned

Guest post by Susan Tyson

I learned about Susquehanna Service Dogs and service dogs eleven years ago when I answered an ad in the Patriot News looking for puppy huggers. Several months later, SSD Trout was put into my arms as a puppy to raise.

At a seminar class the next month, I learned that the program was not let by a nebulous director but by Nancy Fierer. Then I learned that she ran the program as a full time director, but took no pay! And then I learned that the entire program was based at her home! Can you imagine a never-ending, seven-days-a-week parade of people and dogs through your home for twenty years?

Over the years, I learned that Nancy had goals and visions for the development of SSD and the service dog industry. She led, sometimes pushing and prodding, everyone toward those goals. The end result is that SSD has an international reputation for producing quality service dogs.

I learned to listen to Nancy as she discussed dog behavior, a training problem, or a people problem. I did not always agree with everything, but I did realize that she has thought long and hard about the problem, and I was always able to pull a nugget or a scrap of learning from each conversation.

I learned that Nancy has a heart of gold and truly wants to make the world a better place for others. SSD was her way of accomplishing this. The dogs are nice, but in the end, they are a tool to help someone. The real goal is to change someone’s life.

I learned that the goal of producing a service dog does more than change one life—it changes many. I am one of them, and I think that I am not alone. The dedication of so many—staff and volunteers—is a testament to Nancy’s work for SSD.

Fair winds and following seas as you and Robert travel into a new phase of your life. 

Susan Tyson has volunteered with Susquehanna Service Dogs for 11 years as a puppy raiser, part of the whelping team, and a litter raiser. She has helped with various fundraisers, given SSD demonstrations, and uses the dogs for therapy work with people in the psychiatric hospital and children with autism. She lives in apple tree country between Carlisle and Gettysburg with her husband Bill, many chickens, and a huge garden.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Warm Welcome Led to 12 Years as a Volunteer

Guest post by Karen (KJ) Johnston

After 12 years of volunteering with SSD, I have many happy memories of times there with Nancy. After her happy greeting on my first volunteer day when I knocked on her house door—“Oh, you came! Come with me and I’ll show you the kennel!”—to thousands of hours spent at PawsAbilities planning and weekends.

When I worked as Event Coordinator in 2007, I always appreciated the trust she showed me by placing me in charge in her absence and sending me in her place to Keystone Human Services Children and Family Services managers’ meetings.

One of my favorite days with Nancy was at the first Clicker Expo I went to with SSD in Rhode Island when we took a walk after the sessions. I enjoyed walking along the ocean cliff trail with Nancy and SSD Gideon and hearing her ideas to make SSD better. Those plans sure have come true! Nancy has a wonderful vision to train dogs to help people, and I’m glad I found Susquehanna Service Dogs and had 12 years to work with Nancy to move her dream forward. I believe my time at SSD helped to make me a better person and has helped me through a number of personal trials. So a great big “Thank you!” to Nancy for welcoming me to SSD! I have enjoyed the journey!

KJ has been an SSD volunteer for 12 years and was Event Coordinator in 2007. She lives in Liverpool, PA with her husband Tom and their labs—SSD Celia, Meto (SSD Hazel from the Tree litter), Mayhem, and Morel. She found SSD in 2002 when she wanted to learn how to train her next lab, Mabel, to be a therapy dog. She has enjoyed doing any time of work for SSD from puppy raising and sitting, whelping the Tree litter, fundraising, or any work job.