Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Change at Susquehanna Service Dogs

Some of you may know by now that Nancy Fierer, our founder and director, is retiring at the end of May. She founded Susquehanna Service Dogs in 1993 and has served as our volunteer director since then. Over the course of her leadership, SSD has placed 226 working dogs, maintained accreditation by Assistance Dogs International, and joined the North America Breeding Cooperative, among many other things.

“It has been an awesome experience,” says Nancy. “Now I’m looking forward to a new adventure. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.”

Nancy and her husband Robert will be retiring together and moving to Boulder, Colorado to be closer to their children and grandchildren. They’ll also be spending time in the Adirondacks. Although she’s moving out of state, she will still be involved with service dogs. “I’ll always be available to answer questions, and I’ll be attending the ADI [Assistance Dogs International] conference in September.”

We will share more about Nancy and everything she has done for SSD in later posts. Right now, we would like to take this opportunity to introduce Pam Foreman, who will be stepping up as our new director.

“I think Pam is going to be an inspiration, a strong manager,” says Nancy. “She has the ability to push SSD to new heights and take SSD into the future.”

Pam has been with Keystone Human Services for over 33 years. (SSD is a program of Keystone Human Services.) She began her career as an intern during her senior year of college, where she worked in a group home for Intellectual Disabilities Services (then known as Keystone Residence). She was very interested in the work she was doing, and when a full time position opened up, she took it. She worked as a direct support professional for her first year, and then became a service coordinator. Gradually, she worked her way up and spent most of those 33 years in management and leadership positions.

Most recently, she served as the division director for the Central Region of Intellectual Disabilities Services, where she oversaw four programs: Life Sharing, Supportive Living, Home and Community, and Supported Employment.

Throughout her career, she has always been interested in Susquehanna Service Dogs. “I think this is where I’m supposed to be,” she says. “It’s a good match for me, and hopefully a good one for SSD.”

Pam has grown up with Keystone Human Services, and she’s happy to be in a position to help people get whatever they need to have a good life, showcasing their talents and gifts to reach their potential. “People are more apt to have a good life when they have valued roles in their society. Service dogs can promote this by enhancing someone’s ability to live more independently,  perhaps giving them freedoms to engage in their life more fully, and increasing their opportunities to participate in their neighborhoods and communities in the same way their family and friends do,” she says. “Service dogs can be a significant aspect of being able to live a full and good life.”

Since April 21, she has been learning the ropes, starting with a road trip to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, one of the guide dog organizations that we have a strong relationship with. Over the next five weeks, she will work alongside Nancy.

“I’m so impressed by everything I’ve seen,” says Pam. “Nancy has pulled together a good group of people with an impressive level of expertise.”

Nancy and Pam have talked about the future of SSD. This is an exciting time, and we have lots of goals. We will miss Nancy and we’re sad to see her go, but we know that Susquehanna Service Dogs is in good hands with Pam. Here’s to a bright future!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Puppy's Travels

The Aunts and Uncles puppies will be traveling soon! First, they’ll start by just traveling to different parts of the house and outside in the yard. After they’ve had their shots, they’ll start going out in public, traveling with their mother Julia to do service dog demonstrations and going to the mall.

Once the puppies are placed with their puppy raisers, they’ll go all over the place. They’ll visit restaurants, grocery stores, banks, amusement parks, sporting events, and hiking trails. They’ll go with their puppy raisers to the mechanic, hair salon, the dentist, and doctor’s office. 

On May 17, they may travel to the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community to support SSD. (If you’d like to join them, you can sign up online.)

The puppies will travel by car, bus, train, and maybe even plane.

Once the puppies become working service dogs, they’ll accompany their person everywhere, maybe even to other countries.

And everywhere the puppies go, they make an impact on people, whether that person is their partner that they’re supporting, their puppy raiser, or another person who sees the puppies and smiles. They’re going to touch a lot of people’s lives.

So even though the puppies are still living mostly in their whelping box, we want to know how far they’ve “traveled” through the puppy cam. Leave a comment on the puppy cam or right here and let us know where you’re from. You can even suggest a place out in public for the puppies to visit. Who knows? In their travels one day, they may just stop by.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It’s (Virtual) Walking Time!

Are you and your dog doing the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community? We hope you’ll join us!

The Highmark Walk is one of our biggest fundraisers, and it’s so easy to participate. Just sign up and start raising money! The Walk is on May 17 at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC).

This year, we’re especially looking for virtual walkers. What’s a virtual walker? It’s someone who joins us for the Highmark Walk, even if they can’t make on May 17. We love our virtual walkers! You can sign up as an individual or join a team, and then instead of coming to the Highmark Walk on May 17, you can take your dog (or just yourself) for a walk on your own time.

After you sign up for the Highmark Walk, post a photo of your dog with a pair of sneakers on our Facebook page. We’re going to compile all of the photos into a featured photo album as a way to say “Thank you!” to all of our walkers. If you don’t have a dog, or if you want your own picture included in the photo album, please feel free to post a photo of yourself.

Event Details

Saturday, May 17
On-site registration starts at 7:45 a.m.
5K Walk begins at 9 a.m.
One Mile Fun Walk begins at 9:15 a.m.

Harrisburg Area Community College
1 HACC Drive
Harrisburg, PA 17110


Friday, April 11, 2014

SSD Lucy P. Is Special Beyond Words

Guest post by Kristin Platzer. Kristin has been partnered with SSD Lucy P.

I have SSD Lucy P. She may not be a traditional service dog in appearance – she is a Shih Tzu. However she is a traditional service dog in many other ways. She has been trained to perform various tasks for me and I will continue training her for the rest of our life together. In addition, she provides an immeasurable amount of emotional and healing aid to me.

I have Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (otherwise known as RSD), affecting my legs. My condition is as a result of an accident I had in 2003. RSD is an extremely painful condition; in addition to the pain, it causes tissue damage, muscle atrophy, decreased blood flow, reduced nail growth, reduced hair growth, and more. Most people I (and my doctors) know who have RSD rarely leave their house, much less hold down a job. Before my RSD, I was very much a type A person. I graduated 7th in my class from high school and Magna Cum Laude from college. I am a Certified Public Accountant and in addition to my time spent in public accounting I have spent the past 20 years running our family business. I have always been a high achiever and had a strong work ethic. I tend to be one of the leaders in most things I do.

Since my accident, my life has changed drastically. All of a sudden I could no longer do anything I put my mind to. Working harder was no longer enough or even usually a possibility. I had to constantly deal with something I rarely had to deal with before RSD – failure. Thus many things piled up on me. I could no longer do most of the activities I previously enjoyed. I could no longer take care of many tasks without help (e.g. repairs around the house, shopping, etc.). I could no longer work the hours I had previously worked. I lived in such a haze of pain that most of my social life disappeared. My family went on with their lives without me, not that I could blame them. My life narrowed down to working as much as I could, fighting the insurance companies and collapsing into bed, with only an occasional window of fun. I never considered myself as someone who would be prone to depression, but I became very anxious, stressed, & depressed. I became very withdrawn as I am not a complainer; I suffer in silence.

Then, in 2008, Lucy came into my life. Lucy loves everyone, but she and I quickly formed an especially tight bond. I discovered holding her helped me get through some of the pain, helped calm my racing heart, and helped the other side effects of high pain (i.e. spiking blood pressure). I had already determined that she would be well trained, and Lucy quickly learned how to use a potty pad and many commands. She learned to walk with me using a cane. She has always gone to work with me and I discovered I could work more hours with her with me. She is so exquisitely tuned into me that when I am having an especially hard time she jumps onto my lap and then onto my desk (if I’m at work) and talks to me. She gets right in my face (which is cute enough) and talks to me and pats my face with her paws. It is amazing. If I’m at home on the couch she jumps onto my chest and does the same type of thing. She has an uncanny ability to pull me away from my pain, to pull my focus onto her, and even often get me to smile or laugh.

Once we were accepted as an owner trained service dog team, I began to find I could get more shopping done with her accompanying me. I use the shopping cart as a walker and she sits in the basket (which I cover well with her blanket to prevent any complaints). When I start to falter from pain or weakness she does her talking and tapping me on my face thing. In addition, I discovered that with her with me I often seemed to move in a bubble of positivity. People around me smile and comment on Lucy. People are nice, even at Walmart! It’s hard not to feel better when you have smiling friendly people around you. I also went to church more often, went out to eat, & various other activities. It’s still a small fraction of what I previously did, but a lot better than before Lucy. She quickly learned how to pick things up for me. In addition, she helps keep me moving, which is critical in helping me to keep the use of my legs (many RSD patients lose the use of their affected limbs).When I am stuck on the couch or in bed all day (or days), she’s always right with me. She may leave briefly to greet my husband or daughter, but she’ll be back before long. I used to feel so very bad on these days, physically and mentally. Sometimes I can’t even get up to go to the bathroom; thank goodness for good bladder control. Before I hooked up a remote control, sometimes it would get dark and I couldn’t even turn on the light. Lucy helps me so much these days. When she lies on my chest and stares into my eyes. it’s like I’m being hypnotized. The love and healing I feel from her is so powerful. We’ve developed a variety of games we can play from the couch. She brings me her tug toys, her animals to attack and her ball I can throw from one room to another or bounce off the far wall. We even practice training right from the couch. I’ve always tried to make training fun and she loves to learn (and loves the accompanying treats, too). She is learning to fetch things for me. Just having her company on these days helps.

In addition to Lucy helping me, Lucy has been a therapy dog for most of her life. She really excels at this and is quite popular at Hershey Medical Center, where we currently do most of our volunteering. She has been in their calendar for 3 years; this year will be the fourth. She and I primarily volunteer in the emergency department, where I don’t have to do as much walking. She is the most interactive therapy dog in their program (they have approx. 25 dogs there). She reaches out to the patients and likes to hold their hand. The doctors & nurses tell the patients “Lucy will hold your hand.” Her tail wags, she grins, and stares deep into the patients’ eyes. These are all people who are suffering, yet smiles almost always greet us when we walk into the room. I have walked up to patients sobbing in pain and five minutes later they are laughing and playing with Lucy. Children hold onto her while they are getting their IV (and so do adults sometimes).

She has an innate ability to know how active to be with a patient depending on their age and condition; I rarely have to direct her in any way. Doctors and nurses also love to take therapy dog breaks to sooth away some of their stress. She has also lain on the bed in the arms of a dying patient, which meant so much to the patient and her family. She has worked with many types of patients and conditions and worked wonders with so many of them. Just as she is magical to me, she is magical to the patients. Doing pet therapy work with Lucy has also been very beneficial for me. It does something good for my soul, being able to help people. As mentioned, I can no longer do a lot of the activities I used to do. This is something I can do and feel like I am making a difference.

As I am sure you can see by now, Lucy has truly been a savior for me. She is special beyond words and helps me more than I can ever truly express. I feel so blessed that I have her in my life.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

SSD Hopper Is in the Dog House

SSD Hopper
SSD Hopper is in the Dog House. No, she’s not in trouble. This sweet little puppy is being raised by students in Dickinson College Dog House (DDH), a student organization that raises service dog puppies. They’ve raised several dogs with the Northstar Foundation. We’re so excited that they’re raising Hopper for us! Check out Dickinson College Dog House’s Facebook page to see what Hopper has been up to lately.
Last night was Hopper’s first Early Socialization Class (ESC), where she joined SSD Tadpole. Older puppies SSD Twister, SSD Breeze, and SSD Doppler also joined in so the women of DDH could each get some experience working with a puppy.

After some puppy massage, we worked on attention—clicking and treating the puppies for making eye contact.

SSD Hopper

SSD Twister

SSD Breeze

SSD Doppler

One of the first cues a puppy learns, besides their name, is "sit." Puppies sit all the time, so it's usually easy to capture the behavior. We started clicking and treating the puppies for sitting. Eventually, we will add the verbal cue "sit" and then a hand signal.

Next we worked on shaping the puppies to touch their nose to a cone. Shaping is a training method that lets us teach the dogs complex behaviors. In shaping, each behavior is broken down into tiny steps. As the dog masters each step, we increase our criteria. For example, when we shaped the pups to touch their nose to the cone, we started by just clicking and treating them for looking at the cone. Next for taking a step toward it. Then two steps, etc., until they were touching their nose to the cone.

Watch Tadpole touch his nose to the cone. Toward the end, his puppy raiser patiently waits for him to go back to the cone. He did eventually look at the cone after we stopped taking video.

We can’t wait to see what Hopper and Tadpole will have learned by next week!

SSD Tadpole

Friday, April 4, 2014

Hopper and Tadpole in Flight

We have two new puppies at Susquehanna Service Dogs. Meet SSD Hopper and SSD Tadpole! Hopper comes from Dogs with Wings in Edmonton and Tadpole comes from Can Do Canines in Minnesota. Although they’re not related, we’re calling them the Frog Puppies. This is the time of year when the frogs start singing at the kennel, which we love.

SSD Hopper, former DWW Tia

SSD Tadpole
Both Hopper and Tadpole arrived at SSD through US Airways Puppies in Flight program. This is an awesome program where airline volunteers fly with service dog puppies to transport them between service dog organizations.

Check out this wonderful news segment about Can Do Canines and the Puppies in Flight program. The volunteer who delivers Alice to Can Do Canines is the same one who brought Hopper to us!

SSD Hopper is going to be raised by Dickinson College Dog House. We’re very excited that they’re raising a puppy for us! 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Get Your Walking Shoes On

It’s National Walking Day! Have you taken your dog for a walk yet? It might be raining in the Harrisburg area, but don’t let that stop you. Plus, if you have an SSD dog, opening an umbrella near them and walking in the rain is an excellent experience for their training.

Taking a walk today will help you and your dog get ready for the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community. Have you signed up yet?

We’re participating in the Highmark Walk, which is a 5K walk and One-Mile Fun Walk on May 17 at Harrisburg Area Community College. Last year, you helped us raise almost $20,000. This year, our goal is to raise $25,000 to support our puppy raising program and provide service dogs to change people’s lives.

Will you join us?

There are lots of ways you can participate in the Highmark Walk

Don’t forget to get your friends, family, and coworkers involved. Your business may even match your donations or sponsor your team.

We hope to see you and your dog at the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community on May 17!