Guest blog post by Stacy Tarkowski. Stacy and her family are puppy raisers, raising SSD Ellie. They’re walking in the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community to support Susquehanna Service Dogs. Want to join them and #WalkforSSD, too? Sign up online to join the walk.
Though I was born and raised in Central PA, I've been out of the region for almost 20 years. Shortly after I returned home to PA, I was introduced to Susquehanna Service Dogs through a friend who'd gone to work with the organization. I've always been an avid animal lover and, in the background of my mind, I was aware of the existence of service animals but had never given much thought to them before learning about SSD.
The more I learned about this organization, the more I began to admire what it does. Susquehanna Service Dogs asks volunteers to raise their puppies and attend classes to train the pups, teaching them loose-leash walking, several basic cues and good house manners. At around 18 months old, the dogs leave their raisers during the week and attend advanced training where they work one-on- one with professional trainers to prepare for life as working dogs. Once they're ready, the dogs are placed in many different environments: providing confidence to a child with autism, supporting a soldier suffering from PTSD, or simply providing companionship to someone in need. The brilliance of these animals - combined with the dedication and support of the SSD community - make Susquehanna Service Dogs an amazing organization and one I am proud to volunteer for.
My family started puppy sitting for SSD after we lost our beloved family dog to bone cancer. Through much pleading and convincing from my 17-year-old daughter, Emma, we recently decided to become puppy raisers. Emma is a high school senior, deciding whether to go to school for veterinary sciences and one day open her own clinic or going to school for animal psychology and working somewhere fun like SeaWorld, training their dolphins and whales. In either journey, volunteer opportunities like raising a service dog are great experiences for her - and for us!
Emma and I are raising SSD Ellie (with very much support from my husband and 14-year-old son), a female yellow lab born in December 2014. Ellie is full of energy and takes much of ours. But the energy she brings into our house is positive, happy energy and she has taught us so much as we work on teaching her to become a working dog. It's tough work, but it's rewarding work. I love seeing how excited Emma gets when SSD Ellie has mastered a cue! Few things I've done as a parent have provided as much of a lesson in responsibility and accountability as raising this puppy. I'm very grateful Emma convinced us to do it because it's deeply rewarding.
That's why I'm walking for Susquehanna Service Dogs in the upcoming Highmark Walk. I'm walking because my family believes in SSD and what they do for others. I'm walking because we're raising SSD Ellie and she's teaching us as much as we're teaching her. Now, if you'll excuse me, SSD Ellie and I still have to work on her loose-leash walking. The Highmark walk will be here soon!
Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community
Saturday, May 16
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