Monday, February 23, 2015

Fulfilling Their Destiny

Guest blog post by Carolann Shiley, puppy raiser and sitter

It was 8 years ago that my shy, quiet middle child of 14 years old asked me the ultimate question – can we raise a service dog? We hadn’t had a family pet in a few years and I wasn’t sure I was ready for another animal in our home. Feeling guilty about denying him something he truly felt passionate about, I reluctantly agreed to give it a shot. I knew nothing at all about Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD) when I researched programs that would satisfy his interest. We reached out at the right time and barely a month later, SSD plopped a furry yellow puppy into our arms. We were instantly in love. Who wouldn’t be? With her adorable purple handkerchief around her neck, she looked exactly like the “No Fleas on Me” dog from the famous commercials.


I had no idea how much our life would change when SSD Juniper joined us that spring. I was clear with my son that this was not a ‘mom’ project and he would be expected to keep up his end of the agreement. He was responsible for helping with feeding, walking, training, and engaging in the life of the puppy. More importantly, I stressed to him that he would be responsible for answering questions about why we had a dog in tow when we were at stores, restaurants, etc. With a more reserved personality, I knew this would be a challenge for him and I was prepared to back him up in hard times. I couldn’t have predicted what would happen as we grew with our puppy.

One day, I found myself staring at my son in Walmart when he was approached by a woman who wanted to know more about why we had a puppy in the store. Proudly, he explained what we were doing and why we were doing it. There was no hesitation, no shortness of words, and no lack of passion for his service puppy. At that moment, I realized that just as we were hoping SSD Juniper would go on to do great things for someone else, she was already doing something great for my son. She was pulling him from his shell and turning him into a more outgoing, outspoken child.

Time passed, SSD Juniper grew up, and she continued to provide us with amazing experiences as we prepared for her to enter advanced training. Dropping her off at the kennel was bittersweet. We knew it was something we had been working toward but we also knew there would be emptiness in our home when we returned. The first week was grueling. We waited patiently to see her after her training session on Friday and we were super excited to pick her up. She was even MORE excited to see us.

It turned out that kennel life and service dog life wasn’t something that suited SSD Juniper and she was eventually discharged from the program. We quickly agreed to adopt her and continue to love her as our family pet. When asked if I would raise another puppy, I declined. I was concerned about how Juniper would react when a new puppy entered our home and essentially took over her spot as the dog that got to go places with us all the time. I did, however, agree to be a puppy sitter and a temporary puppy raiser if there was a need.

We saw many puppies come and go over the course of a couple years and each one touched our hearts in ways we will never forget. We had one who gently walked Juniper around the house while she was on her leash, sort of like he “owned” her. We had one who took great pride in uncovering my children bright and early each morning to get their day started; they were not so thrilled with the wake-up calls. We had one who came to us in need of a longer stay. She was such a happy puppy that she ended up with what we dubbed Happy Tail Syndrome. She split open the tip of her tail and it would never be the same again. Eventually, they had to amputate part of her tail to help her heal. To this day, we still joke that if the CSI team came in with Luminol and sprayed it around, they would think we had a murder in here when the blood traces from the many, many times her actively bleeding (and wagging ferociously) tail was spraying blood all over my walls! Still, we loved them all.

Then the time came. My children were growing up, I had been through a divorce, and I was ready to take on another full time puppy. Enter SSD Reykjavik. Yes, you read that right. Reykjavik, capital of Iceland. The litter’s theme was Country Capitals. I could have gotten Ottawa, London, Berlin, Kingston…but I got Reykjavik. Not only was it hard to say, it was hard to spell, too!

SSD Reykjavik brought new life to our family. He had puppy energy and a dangerous pouty face that made you instantly fall in love, no matter what kind of puppy trouble he was getting into. This time, I went through the program without formally including my son. It didn’t matter, though. By this time, we were in it as a family. Everyone contributed and we all took turns at training Reyky with hopes of preparing him for future service dog life. Reyky charmed everyone he came in contact with: my family, my coworkers, strangers on the street.

As we progressed with Reyky, we could tell he was something special. He oozed with snuggling affection that he wanted to give to whoever would take it. He would, undoubtedly, be a great companion for someone in need. After a brief period where SSD contemplated breeding Reyky, Advanced Training arrived. We were very excited for Reyky and confident he would do well. Unfortunately, he had an unexpected incident that made him ineligible to be placed with a partner. I was devastated. I couldn’t process what had happened to my perfect puppy. I was at a loss for words as I tried to explain to my family, friends,and coworkers what had happened to the wonderful dog they all knew and loved. With a discharged dog, comes a decision – adopt or not adopt. I couldn’t possibly let anyone else adopt Reyky but I also knew that meant no more SSD puppies for me. Three dogs in my small house would be impossible. I also had the same hesitation I felt with Juniper. What would Reyky think?

But then there’s Becky: lovable, sweet, funny, very convincing Becky. Immediately she asked if I would consider another puppy. My gut said no and I responded as such; then, I waivered. There was a puppy that needed me. SSD Luna was coming back from a litter with another program and wouldn’t have any littermates here. I agreed to take her when I returned from a road trip with my daughter. Before we left, we had Luna for an overnight stay. As with any puppy, there was instant love. It felt right. I knew I was doing the right thing.

SSD Luna

It’s been about 2 months since SSD Luna joined our family. I thought I had learned it all from previous puppies, but I’ve found that there is always something new to learn. This time, I am learning lessons from both her and my sweet, discharged Reyky. While Juniper has grown used to puppies coming and going, she isn’t very fond of them in their high energy, bite-bite-bite stages of play. She prefers that they mature into low key dogs who don’t invade her space. Reyky, on the other hand, immediately adopted Luna as his little sister. He put up with ears, lips, and a tail constantly having a puppy attached. He endured her never ending kisses. He shared his toys, his sleeping space, even his crate was sacrificed for the new puppy. He never floundered. He took it upon himself to make sure Luna had a playmate as well as a watchful eye on her when she needed it.

Reyky and SSD Luna

Everyone told me that discharged dogs aren’t failures, they are just meant to do something other than provide a service to a person in need. I now know exactly what that means. SSD Reykjavik was discharged into my family to provide the foundation for Miss SSD Luna. He is, without a doubt, the littermate she needed since her own littermates had a different path than she did. It warms my heart to see them snuggled together every chance they get. Luna feels the comfort and protection of Reyky and Reyky gets to provide the snuggling he enjoys so much. It’s a match that was made out of pure coincidence and great timing but, no doubt, as part of destiny, too!

Reyky and SSD Luna
Want to be a puppy raiser? Apply online!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Walk to Support Susquehanna Service Dogs

SSD Ellie is working hard on her loose leash walking. She’ll need it in just under three months when she walks in the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community on May 16 at Harrisburg Area Community College.

Susquehanna Service Dogs is one of 46 organizations participating in the Highmark Walk. Last year, 178 people joined us for the walk and helped raise $22,994!

This year, our goal is $30,000. One hundred percent of the money raised will go directly to SSD because Highmark Blue Shield generously underwrites the cost of the walk. That means that every dollar you donate and raise will help train dogs like little Ellie to become working service dogs, like SSD Aussie, SSD Dingo, SSD Newman, and SSD Vicki who are learning to work with their new partners right now.

These service dogs are changing lives and you can help by joining the Highmark Walk.

As a thank you, we’re giving the first 100 people to sign up a coupon to Perkins, donated by Perkins Restaurant and Bakery.

How can you participate? 

We hope you’ll join Ellie and the rest of us for the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community!