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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Donna Sword, Puppy Raiser – Canine Companions for Independence, Part 1

Micron at two years old.
Hi Donna, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Thanks for inviting me to share my thoughts with your readers! I love talking with folk about my volunteer work with Canine Companions for Independence. CCI is a non-profit organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs to individuals with disabilities (other than blindness) – free of charge. I am a volunteer puppy raiser for this amazing organization.

When did you first hear of Canine Companions for Independence (CCI)?
My husband and I have close friends that have been CCI puppy raisers for as long as we’ve known them. This couple, Jerry and Jerri, are my heroes and mentors; they’re now raising their 17th puppy for CCI. But I will admit, as I’ve watched them work with these pups over the years, it was with a touch of envy. Puppy raising seemed like such an adventure, as well as a way to “give back” for the blessings in my life. I just wasn’t sure I was made of the right stuff to do this thing and I had to search internally for the strength to, well, kick myself into action.

And what made you want to become a puppy raiser? Did your job at Proctor & Gamble influence your decision to get involved with CCI? The husband and I we were going through some life changes; the tough loss of a beloved dog, then sending my favorite (and my only) kid off to college. It was a good time to take on some new challenges, I think. As soon as the kid was settled into campus life, I contacted CCI to start the application process. My son takes some kind of pleasure in telling everyone I replaced him with a dog, but in my defense, he wasn’t using his old room anyway. And it’s the perfect place to keep the dog crate.

P&G has been supportive of my volunteer work with CCI by allowing me to have the pups with me during the workday. I work in the Pet Care division - an incredible group of pet passionate folk, we are. We have four CCI volunteer puppy raisers at P&G Pet Care; individually we’ve raised twelve puppies for CCI. Truth be told, it’s our Pet Care co-workers that make things so much easier. We all work together to encourage good behavior out of the pups.

Our P&G Pet Care organization can boast of puppy raisers that volunteer for other service dog organizations, as well. And many are deeply involved in animal rescue work. We’ve got us some serious animal lovers here.

When did you start your blog?
Raising a Super Dog was a pretty humble affair in the beginning. I was a blogging novice and had created a rather vanilla website on Blogger in November 2009. Our second CCI puppy, Micron, was (and still is) ridiculously photogenic. He just can’t help himself, the poor guy. So, using the blogging platform, I started sharing photos and stories with the other CCI puppy raisers of his equally adorable littermates.

Then I found myself getting a motivation high from positive feedback from my friends, especially when they shared the blog with other folk to read. So now I’m hooked on it. I’m a Dog Blogger. But of course, I could probably kick the habit anytime I wanted to.

 What are your training tasks for each puppy while you have them?
We’re asked to introduce thirty commands and behaviors before we return the pup to CCI to matriculate into the Advanced Training program. We work with the basic behaviors you’d expect from any well-behaved pet (sit, down, bed), plus more specific commands to prepare them for Advanced Training. Such as Shake (pup’s paw to touch the flat of my palm), which is a target behavior that will be used later for flipping light switches.

But really critical is the socialization the puppy raiser provides. We want to introduce these fuzzies to new situations during their formative months, with the intention that the dog will be accepting of any environment. I’ve taken pups to museums, on doctor visits, grocery trips, restaurants and to the movies. Anywhere a person would want to go. The pup needs to strut into any situation with a been-there-done-that attitude that allows them to focus on their handler, not the food scraps on the floor.

How long do you have each puppy before they return for the continuation of their training with CCI?
Just a short 14 to 18 months. It goes by so fast.

After matriculation, the dog receives another six to nine months of Advanced Training by professional dog trainers at one of CCI’s regional centers. A fully trained assistance dog will be at least two years old.

Yaxley's first day.
You have other dogs; do they understand that Yaxley has a job that’s different than theirs?
Right, I have a minimum three dogs in my house most days. Along with Yaxley, we have Jager (an All-American mutt blend) and the mighty Micron (our CCI release dog). CCI puppy raisers have a great network and we are always ready support each other, especially with the fun stuff like dog sitting. So, many of us could have six or more at a time. But as we say, after four dogs it’s not worth counting anymore.

Our family dog, Jager is nothing less than a good sport and has resigned himself to sharing his life with new dogs. He does seem to understand the interlopers have a different role than he does. We do insist on good behavior out of the little spotted dog, but mostly we just shrug it off. Because Jager is a rescue, my story is that he just showed up with all his naughty behavior. Hard-wired in his little terrier head, so to speak. I think if you asked him, Jager would say all he really wants out of this puppy raising business is a bowl of water without the Labrador backwash.

But folks may also be relieved to hear that the CCI pups aren’t on the job every waking hour. When the cape is off, they get to be dogs. These guys can run around and dog wrestle to their little fuzzy hearts’ desire. I just have to call cool-down time when they start knocking over the furniture.

*Come back tomorrow for part two of this great interview.


Magic said...

Sounds like an amazing organisation and really interesting interview. The dogs are so photogenic too!

Finn said...

What a great interview. I love these pup pictures, they make me smile!

Mariodacat said...

Great interview. I love companion dogs. They are so valuable in the well being of their oomans.

Kimberley said...

This is such a motivational story. I love the fact that you feel like giving back because you are blessed. This is something that is so interesting. I never really hear of the people who train the help dogs. I would love to do something like that. Thank you for sharing.

Two French Bulldogs said...

Nice interview
Benny & Lily

Mr. Pip said...

Great interview and a great cause. Jager sounds like a nice dog - I showed up hard-wired with some naughty terrier behavior, too!

Your pal, Pip

bichonpawz said...

Very informative interview! Love the cute pics!
xoxo Chloe and LadyBug

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