PERU — Holmes, a Golden Retriever-yellow Labrador mix, snoozes soundly under a patch of sun shining through the kitchen window above him with a yellow and blue cape tied around his body.
“He loves to sun himself,” volunteer puppy raiser Mary Davey said, looking at him proudly.
Holmes is not like any other puppy. He will soon have the very important job assisting a child, adult or veteran with disabilities with Canine Companions for Independence.
But for now, he enjoys his rest before his daily training.
The national non-profit organization provides highly trained dogs to those in need of help with everyday activities at no cost to the recipient.
By the time Holmes and many other dogs in the program reach two years old, they will be specially trained to help with activities like opening doors, picking up dropped items and assisting in many other tasks to help their future caregivers.
Davey, will socialize and train Holmes for 14 to 18 months as part of her volunteer puppy raising duties before he is brought for specialized training at the organization’s Northeast facility in Medford, Long Island.
There, Holmes and other dogs in the program will learn close to 40 advanced commands that would be useful to a person with disabilities.
This allows instructors to evaluate the dogs and their strengths to further judge what type of home the dog would do well in.
Recipients are invited for a two-week stay at the facility where they will be paired with a dog suitable for their specialized needs.
“The dogs have value. They do things for people that we, an average person, have no clue about,” Davey said.
HOW IT BEGAN
Holmes is Davey’s second puppy through the program, a program she stumbled upon by accident after her friend invited her to an open house when the organization was new to the Long Island area.
They learned about the program and about the dogs available, including a puppy named Pride, who had not found a home to be trained in yet.
“My friend said we’ll take him, and I looked at her and said who is we?” Davey said laughing.
“And she looks at me again and says you, you’ll take him.”
Davey’s rewarding experience with Pride was what kept her interested in the program.
“People have no idea how much these dogs and the organization do,” Davey said, reminiscing about the time she saw a video of one of the dogs from the program untying its caretaker’s shoes before placing the shoes and socks on their lap.
“You know they open the doors and you know they push the buttons for the lights, but to be that detailed,” said Davey still amazed. “That’s why I’m doing it.”
Everything in Holmes life with Davey is done with a specific reason in mind, including playtime. Holmes thinks he’s tugging on what looks like your average rope pull toy, but the toy features a large hole on top, fashioned to wrap around a door knob.
By learning to tug on this toy, Holmes will eventually be able to pull open a door, cupboard or refrigerator on command for his caretaker.
Davey teaches other basic commands that involve Holmes getting used to rolling over, speaking and waiting to eat.
Aside from training, Davey’s biggest job is to socialize Holmes.
“The puppies are taken everywhere to get used to sights and sounds,” Davey said.
And because of that Holmes has become a little celebrity in the town of Peru.
“The community has been awesome,” Davey said who has taken him everywhere from Liberty’s Garage to Aubuchon Hardware.
“People recognize that he’s a working dog, and they respect that,” Davey said. “Even though he does look huggable.”
Many local business owners have their own bag of Holmes’ food to give as treats for when he comes in.
“They ask what they need to do, and they practice commands with him,” said Davey.
Davey appreciates that people will come up to her asking questions about Holmes’ blue and yellow vest and the organization he’s from.
“Some don’t recognize the colors, but people are beginning to see what the organization is and the need for it.”
A NEED FOR VOLUNTEERS
Davey and the organization are also working hard to change the attitudes of people who want to help out but see volunteer puppy raising as a big time commitment.
According to the organization, volunteer puppy raisers are the backbone of their mission.
As of right now, there is a year and a half wait for people with disabilities looking for a highly trained assistance dog.
The organization's standards are extremely high with only about five out of 10 dogs making it successfully through the program.
This greatly raises the need for more dogs and more volunteer puppy raisers to adopt them.
“It’s a commitment for 14-18 months,” Davey said. “But all you do is take a puppy and have a good time with him and socialize him.”
She also understands that people might be hesitant because of the fear of becoming attached to the dog.
“Most people are like, ‘Oh, I could never give a dog up,’” she said.
“Well I look at it differently. I think he’s not mine to begin with.”
Davey said she corrects people when they call Holmes “her dog.”
“I correct them by saying it’s the agency’s dog. I keep reinforcing that to myself, too”
She said of course that doesn’t mean that she loves him any less, but knows that Holmes has a very important job to do.
“He’s a reminder that I’m doing this for someone else,” Davey said. “To help someone else.”
“My hope is that maybe people will read this and think, yea, I can do that.”
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