Tuesday, February 16, 2021

January Volunteer of the Month

 Congratulations to Rosemary Kitzinger and family on being the January Volunteers of the Month! 

I have been volunteering since May 2020, along with my husband, David, and our four children, Marissa, Cody, Alyssa, and Collin.

 Currently we are puppy raising SSD Augusta from the Golf Course Litter. I hope to continue to evolve as a volunteer with SSD. 

An 8-week-old yellow Lab puppy sits and stares at the camera

I became involved with SSD through the process of looking for service dog options for Marissa when she was 17 years old. About six and a half years ago, I learned of Susquehanna Service Dogs through a chance encounter (or divine intervention) at the American Girl store in Tysons Corner, Virginia with the cutest puppy wearing a purple vest with SSD insignia on it. The gentleman who was handling the dog—and a few very excited girls—was kind enough to take the time to tell me about the organization and their mission, and he praised the staff immensely. After that encounter, I applied for a service dog for Marissa, and four and a half years later she was blessed when she was matched with SSD Nugget.

Throughout the process, I was amazed every time I saw Marissa handle the dogs, including in public, and what a difference it made in her attention, reduction of anxiety, and her whole demeanor. I knew we were on the right path. During the second week of team training, I told Amanda [SSD’s Director of Breeding and Canine Development] I thought I might want to raise a puppy one day, but let her know I have never ever had a dog in my life (until SSD Nugget came home). She assured me I could handle the task and SSD would teach me everything I needed to know.

I was told we needed to have SSD Nugget for a year before we could raise a puppy. Once we passed that milestone the world shut down due to COVID-19. I talked it over with my husband and our children and we agreed puppy raising would be a great experience anyway, and why not during a pandemic? We could still do something good for someone else and pay it forward. So far raising SSD Augusta has been a truly amazing opportunity and experience for our family.

A woman in a mask sits on a fish-shaped bench in Bass Pro Shops. A yellow lab in a purple service dog harness lies under the bench and looks at the woman.

A man in a mask and a gray sweatshirt and a yellow Labrador retriever in a purple service dog harness walk through the grass at a tree farm.

Four people in coats and masks and two Labrador retrievers in service dog harnesses pose in front of pine trees.

I am new to volunteering with SSD, but I hope to be a long term volunteer. I see the difference a service dog has made in Marissa’s life and I can’t say enough good things about the staff at SSD. #DogsChangeLives!

If you would like to join our volunteers and make a difference by raising a puppy, apply online today!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

October Volunteer of the Month

Congratulations to Becka Yerger, the October Volunteer of the Month! Becka began volunteering with Susquehanna Service Dogs in December 2017 when she started raising SSD Amadeus. Amadeus is now one of our studs and a demonstration dog.

“It’s awesome to think that there are little Amadeus puppies out there becoming service dogs,” says Becka. “He’s the sweetest dog, and I’m honored that he is now a breeder and demo dog.”

Becka decided to get involved with SSD after one of her colleagues at Millersville University started raising a puppy for us. “Of course, I was interested right away. I’m originally from the Harrisburg, PA area, so I had always heard of SSD. When I applied to raise a puppy, I felt like I was at the right stage in my life to start this new journey and adventure.”

Since she raised SSD Amadeus, Becka has been a puppy sitter for some our youngest puppies through our 2x2 program, watching two puppies at a time overnight. She served as a starter raiser for SSD Toast, and she’s now the volunteer staff advisor for Paws on Deck, our puppy raising program at Millersville University. In addition to raising puppies, Paws on Deck helps raise money for SSD and educates the public about service dogs and service dog etiquette.

“The work these dogs do is nothing less than amazing,” she says. “Seeing the dogs with their partners makes the whole process worth it! The staff at SSD also make this journey so much easier because the SSD family is always there for help or support whenever needed.”  

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

September Volunteer of the Month

Congratulations to the Smith family, the September Volunteers of the Month! Thank you for helping #DogsChangeLives! Read their story below about their volunteer experience.

Guest post by Julie Smith, puppy raiser for Susquehanna Service Dogs

Sometimes small decisions have a significant, lasting impact. When our American Heritage Girl’s unit decided to complete the Pet Care Badge in 2015, I had no idea how it would affect my daughter’s life and the rest of my family, too. 

As part of the Pet Care Badge, a demonstration dog came to our troop meeting and showed us some of the ways a service dog helps people in their daily lives. Since my daughter Hannah loves animals and loves helping people, she immediately started asking if we could become puppy raisers. At 10 years old, we thought she was too young to take on the huge responsibility. However, she never gave up asking and finally we relented when she was 13 years old and was ready to take on the challenge.

In March 2019, SSD Paisley entered our lives as a bundle of joy and energy. Hannah was true to her word and managed to balance the responsibility of puppy raising and school work. We learned a lot from our training classes and were amazed at the amount of work that goes into training a service dog, but the community of volunteers and staff totally supported us along the way.

While working with SSD Paisley, Hannah discovered her passion. She loves training dogs and loves how much people’s lives can be changed by a service dog. She seeks out additional ways to volunteer whether it is representing SSD at fundraising events or helping out with a Puppy Hugging event. She helped her brother complete his Eagle Scout project by building playground equipment for the dogs in SSD’s fields. She is even exploring the possibility of a college degree related to companion animal science.

Like many of the volunteers, we couldn’t stop with just one. In February 2020, SSD Zuzu came to live with us. Having two service dogs along with our pet dog during the COVID-19 quarantine was definitely a mixed blessing, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. For us, the hardest part is saying goodbye. We were excited for SSD Paisley and sad for us when she left us to begin training as an explosive detection K9. We know she will love it and will help keep our country safe.

Will we be raising more service dogs? Absolutely! As with many service opportunities, you gain so much more than you give. While significantly helping others, our lives are filled with joyful bundles of fur and slobbering puppy kisses. What could be better?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

August Volunteer of the Month

A woman and a man sit on a bench outside. The man has his arm around the woman. A yellow Labrador retriever sits and rests her front paws on the man's knee.

Congratulations to Sharon and Brian Stalker, the August Volunteers of the Month! Sharon and Brian raised their first puppy for Susquehanna Service Dogs in 1995. Although SSD Sophie didn’t become a service dog, she had a happy life and a successful career as a drug detection dog working with a state trooper.

They decided to get involved with SSD after their family dog passed away. A co-worker recommended SSD as a way to bring a dog back into their lives.

A yellow Labrador retriever puppy does a play bow in the grass in front of a woman on her hands and knees.

Sharon says, “My favorite part of how we became raisers is this: We were invited to a puppy class to see what it would mean to be a raiser, and were told there was a puppy there looking for raisers. Brian said I couldn’t go because I would just come back with the puppy. He wanted to take more time with the decision. So Brian went to class…and came home with the puppy! We found out right away that he is more of a softie with a puppy than I am!”

Since then, they have raised a total of 19 dogs for us!

In a living room, three yellow Labrador retrievers look directly into the camera. One dog stands with their head cocked and a serious expression. The other two sit with happy expressions. Their mouths are open and tongues are out.

In addition to raising puppies, Sharon and Brian also help evaluate our released dogs to see if they would make good companion dogs. Companion dogs are specially trained pets that provide comfort, companionship, and motivation for one or more family members.

A woman stands in her backyard with her back to her house and snuggles a yellow Labrador retriever puppy.

They continue to volunteer because of the impact these dogs have on people’s lives. “The second puppy we raised, SSD Lily, was placed as a service dog,” said Sharon. “She was partnered with a young girl, and after a few weeks, the girl’s mother called us to thank us for raising Lily. She said that after a trip to the mall, her daughter told her “People see me now.’ That one statement is the reason we keep raising these wonderful dogs.”

A yellow Labrador retriever in a purple service dog harness is curled up in a ball on a bright green blanket.

Thank you, Sharon and Brian, for helping #DogsChangeLives! 

Friday, July 17, 2020

July Volunteer of the Month

Congratulations to Beth Bartoli, the July Volunteer of the Month! Thank you for helping #DogsChangeLives! Read her story below about her volunteer experience.

Guest post by Beth Bartoli, volunteer with Susquehanna Service Dogs

I have been an SSD volunteer since December 2017, when I started raising SSD Felix. She is the first dog I have raised, but I plan on continuing to raise dogs for SSD. 

When she was almost two years old, Susquehanna Service Dogs selected Felix as a breeding dog, which also gave us the opportunity to train her as a demonstration dog for SSD. She started classes to become a demonstration (or demo) dog. Felix has been a demo dog for almost a year now, and we have done various “meet and greets” in the community to demonstrate what service dogs can do to make a difference in people’s lives. So far, Felix’s favorite job has been to visit patients at Harrisburg Hospital. She seems to really enjoy visiting with people there, getting and giving love and making people smile. 

Felix just had her first litter of puppies (4 males and 3 females) on June 17, and she is a great mom. They are currently being cared for at Warrior Canine Connection, and we have been able to visit Felix and the puppies once a week since we are her breeder caretakers. It has been wonderful to be able to visit with Felix and to watch her puppies grow. It will be exciting to see these puppies grow hopefully into service dogs, too. We are hoping to raise one of them when they are 8 weeks old. 

I got involved with SSD after reading about how service dogs can make such a big difference in people’s lives, and help them become more independent. My family loves dogs, and we felt like raising a service dog would be a great volunteer experience that we could do together. All members of my family have participated in training Felix, going out in public with her, practicing good behavior at home. 

It is so rewarding to see the dogs being paired with a partner who has specific needs. Hearing the stories from partners about how much a dog has changed their lives is amazing, and I know that the work put into raising a service dog is worth every minute. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

June Volunteer of the Month

Congratulations to Maria and Rob Hersey on being our June Volunteers of the Month! Read their story below about how they became puppy sitters. Thank you, Rob and Maria, for helping dogs change lives! 

Guest post by Maria Hersey, volunteer with Susquehanna Service Dogs

Rob and I began volunteering as puppy sitters in May 2016. Fortunately, I keep notes on all the dogs we sit for and realized that within that time, we have had the honor and pleasure of sitting for forty-three dogs. Ten of those dogs have stayed with us multiple times: Andie Joy, Wes, Dustin, Chickadee, Jackie, Cassiopeia, Prague, Cha Cha , Nellie, and Sergeant. 

Initially, we began sitting on weekends for dogs in Advanced Training. As the years progressed, we began to care for dogs requiring a longer sitting period due to unique situations or breeding schedules. When you spend many weeks caring for a dog, you have the satisfaction of developing a relationship with them and that arrangement is beneficial, not only for the dog but also for both us. Some of the circumstances which resulted in long-term sitting involved discharged dogs awaiting a final disposition, dogs with upcoming adoptions, a dog needing to lose weight, and breeding dogs who need a home situation prior to mating.

Time and again, we are asked “How can you give up these dogs?” Our answer: “There is always another wonderful dog needing us to sit so we rarely feel sad.” There is such variety to our assignments. We have sat for one or two days or up to six weeks. It just depends on SSD’s needs and what is going on with our schedule.

Admittedly, we hold a special place in our hearts for dogs who spend an extended period of time with us:  Bailey (a sweetheart), Andie Joy (happy girl), Jackie (what a scamp), Cha Cha (full of energy), Mikey (a teddy bear), and Sergeant (incredible athlete). We were sad when they left but as we said, there is always another special puppy ready to join us for a new adventure.

Five years ago, we lost our beloved Annabelle, a rescued black lab/golden mix.  Since we are retired and in our 70s, we did not want to take on the responsibility of rescuing another dog. Nor did we want to burden our children should we not be able to care for a dog. However, throughout 51 years of marriage we have always had a rescue and now we felt lost without a canine companion. We also enjoy an active lifestyle of walking and hiking and both activities are so much more much fun when we can share them with a dog.

Sitting for SSD was the perfect situation for our current lifestyle. We have our freedom but also have ample opportunities to get our “doggie fix.” Also what is not to like about SSD dogs! They are well-bred, beautifully behaved, and can accompany us to all the places we like to visit. Our dogs join us in daily exercise classes, join us while we volunteer at the public library and go on daily visits to the Mohler Senior Center. It is such a pleasure to walk into these places, especially with a SSD dog, because we are greeted with such delight and joy by all.  At the senior center, Rob and I discovered that our “supposed” popularity is in direction proportion to the dogs we share with the members.

We have truly enjoyed working with the staff and other volunteers at SSD. This is a community of devoted dog lovers who are so dedicated to the mission of sharing these beautiful animals with those in need. No matter what your age or who you are, if you are involved with caring for SSD dogs you are completely accepted as part of this greater service dog family. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

May Volunteer of the Month

Congratulations to Susan Wesner, the May Volunteer of the Month!

Susan has been volunteering with Susquehanna Service Dogs since May 2014 as a puppy hugger helping to socialize our youngest service dogs in training. She first heard about SSD when she attended PawsAbilities, our canine festival. By 2015, she took our classes to become a puppy sitter.

After sitting new puppies SSD Geronimo, SSD Godiva, and SSD Guava as part of our 2x2 puppy sitting program, she was hooked.

Since then, she has supervised puppy socialization at our center in Grantville, PA and has helped canine eye clinics and other activities. She has also helped with litters in some of our whelping homes—clipping nails, cleaning up after the puppies, and more.

“Best of all is getting to work with the puppies on their early socialization and learning,” says Susan.

“As a sitter, I enjoy working with the dogs in public, and when I get the opportunity to sit a dog more than once, it’s fun to see how they have progressed. Knowing these puppies and dogs will someday help someone with things that I take for granted is why I continue volunteering.”

Thank you, Susan, for helping #DogsChangeLives!

Our volunteers collectively give over 40,000 hours per month to raise and sit puppies, help with public training, maintain our property, help with fundraising, and so much more! To give back to our volunteers who give us so much, we’re recognizing a volunteer each month. Selected by random drawing, volunteers of the month receive a gift card to local restaurants and businesses.