Guest post by Revenda Bierley, puppy raiser and volunteer for Susquehanna Service Dogs
Unlike our children, Aunt Laura came with a manual of instructions, which adorned a small nook in our kitchen. This manual was read and reread as we learned the new language of dog training. Necessary commands were practiced daily and for the first eight weeks, we attended weekly training classes, after which, classes were held every two weeks. Aunt Laura proved to be a wonderful student, eager to please and quickly mastering the mandatory list of basic skills.
Raising and training a service dog requires a fair amount of work and perseverance. We soon realized that raising this puppy was also a lot of fun. After all, you take the dog everywhere you go—grocery stores, restaurants, sporting events etc. The goal is to expose the young dog to any and every place a person needs or wants to go, from riding an elevator, to navigating stairs or even passing food on the ground. These experiences are vital to their success and each accomplishment is one step closer to making a difference in the life of an adult or child with a disability.
Maybe it was a moment of weakness or the fact that we were enjoying channeling our parental energies into raising a service dog that when we received a call this past February asking us to take another puppy, we accepted. Two days later, we welcomed SSD Elsa into our home. Elsa was tiny with a very large personality. Her name alone was a crowd pleaser with children and she eagerly accepted the adoration. Elsa embraced life and her new surroundings enthusiastically and gratefully accepted SSD Aunt Laura as her mentor. She too has proved to enjoy her training sessions and is quickly mastering the cues we teach her.
With two service dogs, our appearance in public places that are otherwise off limits to dogs arouses people’s interest. In some cases, it has inspired others to inquire about the dogs and become raisers as well. However, most people simply question us as to how we will be able to give the dog up when the training is finished. I admit, we have not crossed that threshold yet and I am sure it will be difficult. I am also sure it will be worth it to the recipients of the dogs I raise. In the meantime, we have found new connections and we are part of an extraordinary community of individuals with the same purpose—help support the mission of Susquehanna Service Dogs.