For those who know me well, you know that fostering has been in my mind for a few years now. It fascinates me what triggers thoughts in one’s mind and the many different “steps” one must go through to finally accept or make do of a new situation!
Fostering has been (and still is) a deep & continuous thought but my current indisposition towards having children has made me “look” outside the box. So when my spouse shared with me the recent article highlighting PADS (Pacific Assistance Dogs Society) need for new volunteers/raisers for their many upcoming litters, I wondered. Would this be something we could contribute to? Would our home be a good fit for one of those very special dogs? What exactly does it mean to be a PADS puppy raiser?
Last May, I had the privileged to meet and work with some of the folks at PADS who accurately explained the role and the impact that those dogs have in someone’s life. PADS dogs are all trained to eventually become important assistants to people living with disabilities or PTSD hence they are working dogs. Yes, they are adorable. Yes, they are cuddly. Yes, they will be the perfect companion. But they are not pets. Those Labradors and Golden Retrievers have big responsibilities and after their intense training program, they’ll make a tremendous life-changing impact.
So we’ve been all “paws” on deck for the past few months! We attended puppy classes, observed the advanced training classes, did clicker training, read and went through a thorough home inspection. Our understanding has deepened as we realized that this was not fostering a dog but actively raising a thinking puppy who will constantly be at our side throughout the day and although we feel nervous about the year and a half ahead, we have been eager to get started.
And today is the day. We finally got our puppy! It’s almost with tears in our eyes that we are welcoming this cute little 8-weeks old pup into our home to provide him with all the tools and love but also rigidity he needs to succeed! For the next 18 months (or more), we will teach him the basic skills that he will need to be a meaningful & effective dog that will ultimately be certified as an assistant dog.
Be ready…amongst many of my new responsibilities comes the fact that I need to “socialize” this dog and have him comfortable and mannered in the human world. Franz, that’s his given name, must therefore be with one of us 24/7 which means that having me alone might become rare. The good news though is that PADS dogs are allowed everywhere e.g. restaurants, stores, cinema, theaters, concerts etc. so Franz won’t change my social schedule nor any of my regular activities – he will simply tag along 😉 .
You’ll need to remember though that Franz will constantly be working. And what do you do when you encounter a service dog? You should almost ignore the dog and pretend he isn’t there.
I do realize that it can be exciting to see a dog out in public, so I would ask that you follow my instructions before interacting with Franz. We were told that listening to and following the raiser’s instructions will help the dog to avoid learning bad habits that might jeopardize his ability and/or training. And finally, if for whatever reason I have to decline the interaction, please accept the “no” in the spirit that it was given. It may sound harsh but this dog’s most important role is to be focused, aware and thinking so that he can keep his/her future partner safe. When the dog is distracted (like anyone actually) he is not paying attention to his job and his future disabled human handler could very easily get hurt at that time. If you’d like a little more guidance, I found the “8 Dos and Don’ts for Behavior Around a Service Dog Team” article in HERE very helpful.
Anyway, this is a big day for us, and I am hopeful that this new experience may even open doors that I never had the courage to access.