Thursday, May 12, 2016

Thankful To Be a Small Part of a Dog's Life

Guest post by Kera Daily, puppy sitter and volunteer

At Chocolatefest 2015, my daughter and I hugged an SSD puppy for the first time, having no idea how our lives would change because of that little fur ball. After learning more about the organization and the amazing ways service dogs help people, we decided to become puppy sitters. We enjoyed the sitter classes, which reduced our nervousness over caring for an SSD dog, and gave us hands-on experience working with the pups.

Our first puppy sitting gig was with SSD Sophia, an adorable Golden who recently turned one year old. She was so sweet and so well-behaved for 8 weeks old that we didn't want to give her back! Both my daughter and I cried the night before she left us, and I wondered how we could ever raise a dog knowing we would have to give her up. When I posed this question to my then 10-year-old daughter, she thought about it and responded, "It would be really sad to give the dog up, but knowing that it would be helping someone who can't do things on their own would make me happy." Wise words, but I suspect easier said than actually going through it.

While we won't personally experience an SSD dog go from an 8-week-old pup to advanced training to team training, as sitters we do get the opportunity to share our home with and get to know so many different SSD pups. And because we don't have the dog full time as a raiser, as sitters we get to be like grandparents and spoil the dog the length of their stay with us with activities like hiking, swimming, play dates with other SSD dogs, and all the kids in the neighborhood at our home excited to play with the pup. We still occasionally cry when it's time to return a pup to their raiser, but we are thankful to have had the opportunity to be a very small part of the dog's life.

One pup in particular I became quite attached to. He was the best hiking buddy, fairly calm for a one-year-old, and he felt like an old soul, if there is such a thing for a dog. He was discharged from the program, and I was thrilled with the chance to adopt him. Forest joined our family 6 months ago, and not a day goes by that he doesn't make me laugh. He is so good with the pups we continue to sit; letting them climb all over him, playing in the yard with them, and even pulling them closer to him when they sleep together. I sometimes joke that he's a service dog drop out, but in a way, he's still providing a service by helping to care for the SSD pups we sit.

Join Kera and Susquehanna Service Dogs for the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community on May 21 at HACC!

There are three ways to participate:
  1. Sign up, raise money, and walk on May 21.
  2. Be a virtual walker and raise money.
  3. Make a donation.
Event Details

1 HACC Drive
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Saturday, May 21
Registration starts at 7:45 a.m.
5K Walk starts at 9 a.m.
One-Mile Fun Walk starts at 9:15 a.m.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Impact of a Service Dog

On May 6, we held our annual Graduation and Volunteer Appreciation Celebration. Twenty-nine dogs graduated, including two companion dogs, eighteen service dogs, seven breeding dogs, and two CIA K-9s. Congratulations to all our graduating teams!

This year, Kim Wiesniewski shared her family's story for our Graduation Keynote. Kim's husband, John, is partnered with SSD Slate. Through her story, you'll see how service dogs change more lives than just their partner's.

Where do I even begin?From the moment John found out SSD Slate was going to be his partner, all our lives have changed in more positive ways than anyone can imagine. Neck, back, and hip issues, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks had left John a prisoner to himself, but Slate has helped John to conquer tasks that seemed unattainable, and he has given him the confidence to be himself again. Each day is a new challenge, but Slate gives John the support both physically and mentally to move forward easier. It's an amazing feeling to see the changes in John and see the bond between him and Slate.

John spent many years in the US Navy, with his career ending in a medical discharge. John loved being in the US Navy and I know he misses it every day. Slate has helped him to be involved in the US Navy Sea Cadets, supporting our son Dominik. They work together with the Belleauwood Seadevils unit out of Chambersburg, PA. I see his passion for the military being passed down to our son with every drill and parade they attend. Before Slate came to us, this passion seemed nonexistent. Sharing these experiences with his son and forming such a strong bond with Dominik has been wonderful to watch and fills me with such pride.

So many summer vacations normally end up being just the kids and me because the chaos, stress, and crowds are too much for John to handle. Last summer Slate, John, and a close friend made a surprise visit during our two-week Myrtle Beach vacation! This was probably the most memorable vacation ever! We all spent much needed quality time with John and the memories made during that time will be cherished forever. It was so nice to see John relaxed and enjoying himself without any care, with Slate by his side.

Slate may be John's partner, but he has a way with everyone he meets. He has comforted me through my mother's death with kisses, licked away my 12-year-old daughter's tears when the girls at school were being mean, rests his head on my son's knee when he wants to share the big comfy chair, happily greets my oldest daughter at the front door when she comes to visit, and without question he sleeps in the recliner on a daily basis with John so he's never alone.

It's easy to see that SSD Slate benefits all of us. He is undoubtedly family.

Monday, May 2, 2016

I #WalkforSSD Because SSD Has Been a Life-Changer

Guest post by Sue Knode, puppy raiser and SSD volunteer

Why do I participate in the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community? I walk because Justin relies on SSD Thunder to help him in challenging situations every single day. I walk because SSD Grace helps a classroom of students at Hilltop Academy every school day. And I walk because SSD needs the funds to train SSD Barracks and SSD Nikon to do great things and place them in just the right job!
SSD has many partners and many dogs, and the stories vary. What resonates with me is that we are able to partner dogs with people and change lives! The dogs allow them to function more independently, go out in public, and handle challenging situations.

I'm a Highmark employee and have volunteered with the Walk day events for years. I remember the first time I saw SSD at the Walk, and I couldn't resist the dogs. I approached Nancy Fierer, who was the director at the time, and told her I was interested in getting involved with SSD when I eventually retired. For those who know Nancy, you won't be surprised that her response was something along the lines of "why wait until you retire?" and I didn't have a good answer. So, I filled out an application, volunteered as a puppy sitter for a few months, and became a puppy raiser. Six dogs and many amazing experiences later, I'm hooked!

I enjoy working with the dogs and seeing them progress from precious fur balls to attentive, intelligent workers. But the people are just as much of a draw. I've met many wonderful partners and staff, and have formed great friendships with other volunteers. SSD has been a life-changer for me!

Why do I walk? Along with the opportunity to raise money for Susquehanna Service Dogs, I enjoy the walk around the HACC campus, time with friends, and the chance to meet others who are just as passionate about the charities they support. How could I say no?

Event Details

Saturday, May 21
On-site registration begins at 7:45 a.m.
5K Walk begins at 9 a.m.
One-Mile Fun Walk begins at 9:15 a.m.

1 HACC Drive
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Sign up for the Walk