Every Tuesday and Thursday, the dogs in advanced training hop into the SSD van, and we head out to visit public places like Giant, Target, the Harrisburg Mall, the Colonial Park Mall, or like today, Messiah College for the Special Olympics.
Working in public is an important part of a service dog’s training, because once they become a working service dog, that’s exactly what they’re going to be doing. Working in public. And that means they need to be comfortable working in any environment and situation, wherever life with their new partner takes them.
We have 16 dogs in advanced training right now, and in order to take them out in public, we rely on a group of volunteers to work with the dogs on these public outings. Our public volunteers are amazing! Each Tuesday and Thursday, they meet us at the designated location, and we hand them a dog to work with for two hours.
Carol Fricke enjoys working with different dogs each time she volunteers. “Each dog has their own personality, and it’s neat to see,” she said. Carol started volunteering with our advanced training dogs in public four years ago. When she retired from teaching, she decided that since she loves animals, she’d look for volunteer opportunities with dogs. A news article about SSD convinced her that this was the opportunity she was looking for.
Plus, “I can work with the dogs and not want to take them home with me, because they’re going to be doing such a great service,” she said.
Mel Brownold has also been volunteering with our advanced training dogs for four years. “When I retired, I was looking for a place to do some good,” he said, “and I felt more comfortable with animals than with people.”
He enjoys working with the dogs and seeing people interact with the dogs. “You do a lot of listening when you’re working with a dog,” he said. “You hear stories from people about their own dogs. It’s always interesting.”
Some of our public volunteers also volunteer in other areas of SSD. Mel has helped with team training and occasionally with Meet the Dogs, where people on our waiting list get to meet and hopefully make a match with one of our dogs in advanced training.
Darlene Furlong has worn just about every hat there is at SSD. She’s been volunteering with SSD for 11 years, and in addition to training the dogs in public, she helps with puppy raiser interviews and preliminary interviews for people applying for a service dog. She has done service dog demonstrations and is a puppy sitter. Like Mel, she has helped with Meet the Dogs. She served as a puppy coordinator for a little while and has given private lessons to puppy raisers and demo teams. She and her husband have transported dogs to and from other service dog programs in many different states, and in her travels, she helps recertify our working service dog teams all along the East Coast.
“I love working with the dogs,” she says, “and helping to train them to do their jobs for their future partners.”
Thank you to all of our public volunteers for working with our dogs in advanced training and helping them perfect their skills!