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Leonard J. Luchowski: Raising service dogs brings great rewards

Often times parents are confronted with their children posing the question: “Can we get a dog?”

Over time, the questioning may become badgering, whereby parents will finally relent and surprise their offspring with a brand-new puppy. Often the newest member of the family is wearing a bright red bow; eager to greet everyone with his warm and cuddly charm and an unending series of puppy face licks.

Fast forward to a point where the novelty of a pet eventually wears off. The children have gone off to other interests and the adults are the sole providers for what is now a full-grown dog that all too often becomes one more problem for an already overcrowded animal shelter.

But there is a solution: Volunteer for one of the many organizations in need of people to raise their puppies, which go on to change the lives of people in need as service dogs.

Service dogs are a very special gift to people in all walks of life who are confronted with problems such as blindness, hearing loss, anxiety, post-traumatic stress or autism.

Many folks express the notion of wanting to raise a puppy, but fear they would not be able to face having to return the dog to the organization. There may also be some skepticism related to inexperience with undertaking an endeavor such as this.

The answer is a series of in-class informational and training sessions whereby all members of the family are invited and encouraged to attend. It is the beginning of taking on a large responsibility and honoring a commitment.

Typically raisers receive a puppy that is 10 to 12 weeks old. The dog is returned to the organization when it reaches an age of 12 to 16 months.

This is where everyone learns the other side of having a dog, where manners, behavior, care and daily walks are coupled with exposures involving a myriad of situations and environments that are not only encouraged but, in some cases, expected.

The truth is that watching your dog leave what was once his home will bring tears of sorrow. Those tears, however, will be replaced with a hope that one day the raisers and the dog will be reunited, if only for a short time, at the graduation of “their puppy.” It is here where raisers may be afforded the opportunity to meet the individual who is receiving a precious gift of independence; now able to do things, go places and be accepted by their peers, as is the case for children with autism.

While writing a check or making a monetary donation to a worthwhile organization is a noble gesture, charity takes on a completely different meaning for puppy raisers and their families because they have given a stranger a large part of themselves; accompanied by a lesson about life that could never be taught in any school classroom.

We have raised seven Labrador retrievers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Our special needs dog, Kirk, is now the guide for a wonderful lady in Texas who is not only blind but is troubled by anxiety attacks.

We were absolutely delighted when she contacted us by phone and expressed to us her gratitude with respect to how Kirk has a calming effect on her and has dramatically changed her life.