Written by Amie Chapman
When I first brought Bernard, Bianca, and Penny home, I wasn’t sure what our plan for them would be. Of course our dream was to have them become service dogs, but at three weeks of age, how do you know if they are good candidates? At the time I had no idea what breeds they were or what type of personalities they would have.
As they grew and developed, I treated them as future service dogs. I handled them a lot, exposed them to all types of sights, sounds, and smells. I got them comfortable with being in crates, going on car rides, wearing collars, leashes, and even a puppy coat (I didn’t actually take them out in public with the coat, just made sure that they didn’t have a body sensitivity to one). They all developed into super sweet, loving, and happy puppies that were very attached to people. So why not try and see if they could become service dogs?
I spent a lot of time on the internet looking for service dog organizations that were willing to take donated mixed breed dogs. I found a couple that we could get to by car within a day or two (I refuse to fly dogs in cargo) and I completely looked over their websites and reviewed them multiple times. But for some reason, I kept going back to the website for Brigadoon Service Dogs. I listened to my gut instinct and reach out to them to see if they would be interested in these three puppies.
“Brigadoon Service Dogs is a small organization that makes a big impact. They train every type of service dog except guide dogs for the visually impaired.”
At first the response was no, we were too far away from them. But Matt and I offered to bring the puppies to them, and it was an immediate yes, they were interested. After a few emails back and forth and a nice phone conversation with the director, we figured out a time where we could take a break from our duties at home and take a few days to drive up to Washington and drop the puppies off.
We just got home from that trip. I have to admit I was really nervous about doing a 915-mile road trip with three 10-week-old puppies, Ricki, and Ozzy. Things actually went really well. We gave everyone plenty of playtime before we left and decided to drive at night when the pups were used to sleeping. The plan worked. The pups did really well, sleeping almost the whole trip, and of course Ricki and Ozzy are seasoned travelers so they were great as well.
I really could not have asked them to be better behaved than they were. They would wake up every couple of hours and need to potty, so there were a lot of stops. But all of our work getting the pups used to relieving on a leash and lots of car rides really prepared them for the trip. There was absolutely no way to get a hotel room with five dogs so we did the trip without a long break. Matt and I took turns driving and sleeping during the 20-hour trip.
Brigadoon Service Dogs is a small organization that makes a big impact. They train every type of service dog except guide dogs for the visually impaired. Denise, the founder, runs the school with the help of volunteers and a handful of employees. They are also partnered with a few prisons and the inmates are involved with helping to train the dogs. I have to admit that the prison program was one of the things that drew me to this organization. Because these puppies were unwanted and abandoned, maybe the inmates would see that just because you have a rough start in life doesn’t mean you can’t become something great. It is a win-win for everyone. The organization gains some new prospects, the inmates gain life skills and a way to give back to the community, and the puppies will be guaranteed a good home no matter what their path is.
When we finally arrived, we received a warm welcome. The few people we met were very excited to be receiving the puppies. We got a tour of the facility and a rundown of how things work there. We met the current dogs in training along with a litter of 12-week-old collie puppies (sooooo cute!). The puppies got a chance to run and play in a small fenced-in yard, and Ricki and Ozzy got to run in a very large fenced in area. We had a chance to ask any questions we had and to give Denise as much information about Bernard, Bianca, and Penny as we could. Everyone involved wanted to make their transition as smooth as possible, their well-being was the most important thing to me.
“Deciding who to bring back home with us wasn’t easy, since we love all three of them. All the puppies are great puppies, and all different.”
Once all the details were worked out, we learned that a couple of raisers that were lined up for the school had changed their mind. One of the collie puppies, along with Penny, Bernard, and Bianca, were now waiting for raisers. We were asked if we had any interest in raising the collie puppy … or one of our pups. We hadn’t planned on raising again so soon—we were actually wanting to take a break to finish our current Growing Up Guide Pup projects and start others that we have been wanting to do for a long time. But I feel that things happen for a reason, and the timing isn’t always when you want it. So of course we said yes to raising one of our pups. How can you not help someone who is already doing so much to help others?
Deciding who to bring back home with us wasn’t easy, since we love all three of them. All the puppies are great puppies, and all different. Bernard is the silly one who makes you laugh and smile. He learns things super fast, but also likes to do what he wants, like pick on the girls. Bianca changed the most as she grew. She was easily scared and a little shy, but boy did she come out of her shell. She loves to cuddle and is super social with people and other dogs, her tail wags the most. Penny is the mellow one, usually the first to tire out. She too is a great cuddler and will sit in your lap for hours (at least for now, she will be way too big as she gets older) and the most eager to please you.
After a lot of consideration we decided that Penny was the right fit for us at this time. Ricki and Ozzy need a bit of a break too (after Patrick and Arturo, both high energy dogs), and a mellow puppy would be easiest on them. Between work schedules, Growing Guide Pup duties, and some very much need home repairs, we need a puppy that actually sleeps for more than 30 minutes before needing to run, play, or train to fulfill their mental and physical requirements.
Penny is giving us an opportunity for a lot of firsts. This is the first time that we got to choose which puppy we get to raise. This is also our first time raising a puppy for a different type of service other than guide work. Along with the firsts, there is of course working with yet another different school and different training protocols, new commands and different commands for the same behaviors like relieving (so far we have used “do your business,” “ get busy,” and now “hurry”). It is hard to retrain ourselves from one protocol to another and remember different rules and guidelines. But as always these challenges are also great ways to learn new things.
With Penny being such a soft dog we also have to change our approach to our training with her. With Patrick he was fearless and we were able to bring him almost anywhere from the beginning and he took everything in stride. Penny gets overwhelmed easily and we will need to take exposing her to things much slower. She is also already very attached to Ricki, so we will be using Ricki as a mentor in our training to help build Penny’s confidence.
So let the new adventure begin, I have no idea what will happen with these three wonderful puppies. All I know is that they have brought so much joy during their time with me and I am looking forward to watching them grow and see what path they will choose.