Canine Companion calls for dog lovers to help train service dogs

A volunteer with a Canine Companions puppy. Photo Courtesy of Canine Companions Staff.

By Vanessa Lee

Boston University News Service

Nicole Tarzia met Hera II, her service dog, in May of 2018 as a wheelchair user. 

“Hera has been a gigantic help in my life, bridging the gap between people who may not understand my disability,” said Tarzia, a graduate from Canine Companion’s service dog program. 

Service dogs are unsung heroes for people like Tarzia. Not only do they provide companionship and emotional support, but they also provide aid to individuals facing challenges in their daily lives. 

Tarzia said Canine Companions providing free service dogs for people with disabilities is critical because they have so many other medical and everyday expenses that people without disabilities wouldn’t imagine.

After getting her service dog, Tariza’s confidence soared as far as what she could do independently.

But apart from that, Hera also became her best friend. 

“She’s my buddy, I go everywhere with her,” Tarzia said. 

Tarzia is a public speaker and a co-founder of Disability Awareness Education 4 Kids & Families, a nonprofit educational organization about disability topics. She said Hera is a great ambassador for people to understand that it’s possible to break the limits when you have a disability.

Canine Companions, based in Santa Rosa, California, is looking for dog lovers from all over the country to help raise their future service dogs.

“We don’t expect any amount of extensive background with working with dogs in the past,” said Sharon McComb, a puppy program manager at Canine Companions’ Northern New England Chapter. She said the organization trains volunteers to help everyone feel prepared for puppy raising. 

Volunteers take home and raise a puppy for a few months — while teaching basic potty training, obedience and socialization out in public — before the puppies go into service dog training. Anyone can join the program to learn and raise a service dog, including minors accompanied by their parents, college students and older individuals. 

“I started puppy raising when I was an undergraduate [in college],” McComb said. She said the experience was probably “the most rewarding thing that [she’s] ever done.”

She said being able to dedicate the time into raising a dog that will one day change somebody’s life is an experience like none other.

“When you have the opportunity to meet that person who receives your dog, the sense of pride, happiness and hope that you feel is amazing,” McComb said. “So it really is a very unique experience.”

Canine Companions is the first and largest service dog organization in the United States. Since the nonprofit’s founding in 1975, they have provided over 7,300 service dogs to people with disabilities all over the U.S. 

“Our main goal is to enhance independence for children, adults and veterans with disabilities, by placing expertly trained service dogs with them,” McComb said. 

When a service dog retires, McComb said the dog would spend its golden years as a pet. The graduate that they worked alongside has the opportunity to adopt them. She said the organization also has a “wonderful waitlist of awaiting adopters” such as puppy raisers, volunteers in other capacities and donors.

Tarzia is grateful to Canine Companions and Hera’s puppy raisers for giving her “the gift of independence.”

“I will be forever grateful for anybody and everybody that wants to get involved with Canine Companions,” Tarzia said. 

Karen Jesch is a current puppy raiser from the Bay State chapter of Canine Companions. She is a Ph.D. student at Boston College raising Seymour III. 

Jesch, like McComb, said that puppy raising was the most rewarding thing she has ever done because she began to realize how important these dogs are while being a part of their life.

Some people ask Jesch if it is hard to give the puppies up after raising them. She says it is difficult, but definitely worth it once she sees the impact made. 

“Knowing I played such a pivotal role in this partnership is so rewarding,” Jesch said. 

To learn more on how to become a volunteer puppy raiser, visit Canine Companions.

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