Every year, Labrador/golden retriever mix puppies are flown from California to the Irving area to be placed with foster parents. These puppies, who live with the training family from 8 weeks to around 16 months, learn commands, receive veterinary care, and are socialized during this first stage of training. The end goal for these puppies is to be working dogs specifically trained by Canine Companions.
Puppy trainers assume the care, food, training and veterinary bills for the puppy in their home. The trainers also bring the dogs with them in public settings, allowing the dogs to become accustomed to whatever setting they may be in when they are placed in their final home.
Gayla Cruikshank is raising her second puppy.
“The puppy we are raising now is named Riley,” Cruikshank said. “She is part of our family. She just lives with us, and we treat them like we treat our other dogs. We give them the socialization and the house training that all dogs would get. The puppies are only two months old when they arrive, so at first all they learn is the basics.
“Six to ten months has more commands that they will use in their training later. Then from 10 to 18 months we work on tough commands. At the end of the training, the puppy will have 44 commands.
“I was working for the Susan G Komen Three Day. I love philanthropy and giving back in that way. When my daughter moved out and we had an empty nest. I wondered what I could do to give back without taking away too much time from my husband. I asked a friend who was volunteering and got more info. By the time we got to the orientation class, I just knew this is what I wanted to do. It does not take time from my family, and it enriches our household.”
Cruikshank became more committed to raising puppies once she met people who received fully trained Canine Companion Service or Companion dogs.
“It is not always easy to raise a young puppy,” Cruikshank said. “It made it worth it to see the people with disabilities living fuller lives, because they have these dogs. It is such a gift to see the people be able to work with these dogs, even flying across the country for work, or going to the movies, or doctor appointments. It really allows people with disabilities to access these places.”
Aubrey Rowan is a college student who is a puppy raiser for Canine Companions.
“I was introduced to puppy raising in high school,” Rowan said. “They encouraged me to try this out. When I came to college, as someone who has always grown up with pets, I was very lonely without an animal around. This opportunity allows me to give back to the community and to have a companion with me while I have them.”
Rowan is raising her second puppy in the program.
“I knew the puppy would live with me for over a year, then I would turn over the leash to the specialized trainers,” Rowan said. “The trainers reassured me the puppies remember us, but will be excited to see what comes next with the new trainers. That is a tough time for us, of course, but we know they are going to eventually be able to help people. Then, when you get to see the puppy you raised graduate and go to their forever home, it is all worth it.”
“I am delighted to be part of this amazing family,” Joan Cooper, retired educator, said. “I have always loved animals and how children respond quickly to them. I had been a CASA volunteer, and at a convention, saw someone with a Canine Companion who was used with children when they had to testify in court. I looked at this dog and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, Joan Cooper, you can do this too.’
“After the screening process, I was approved to raise a puppy. The whole process has been so wonderful. I just kept getting more and more excited, and I got the call the puppy was available. This is a magical process. I am a 77 year old woman who thrives doing this. We have puppy classes every other week, along with trainers and other volunteers who support us.”