Last week the guest tipster on The Daily Dog Tip was CJ Betancourt, founder of The Foundation for Service Dog Support. The FSDS s a non-profit organization based in Arizona. They are a support and resource center for those with service dogs, and those who seek information and training on service dog issues.
The organization runs several programs, but the one I want to focus on is the Puppy Raising Program. The reason being, this program works with high school students. Over the last few months I’ve posted some very disturbing stories dealing with children and animal cruelty, this program highlights the good qualities in today’s teens. It shows what a difference a high school student can make in the community, now and in the future.
The program allows students to earn HS credits, while learning puppy raising, canine obedience and canine safety programming. At the end of three semesters, the teams must successfully pass the FSDS Certification test, and the dogs will then be matched with individuals in the community with disabilities who require service dogs.
One of the teens chosen to participate is Brittney Shields. I got the opportunity to interview Brittney about her experience being in the program.
My name is Brittney Shields, and I was chosen to be a handler/trainer in this program. There are twelve handlers and twelve puppies in the first group. Each of us had to go through an application and interview process before we were accepted into the program. I first heard about it from an article on the school district’s website.
After reading the article, I was instantly interested in the program for two reasons. The first reason being that I love animals, and I would get to work with dogs on a daily bases. The second reason was because of the purpose of the program: training service dogs to give to those in the community who have given to us. I would be learning all about service dogs, laws regarding them, and how to train them, and I would also be training a dog for a very deserving individual.
Soon after the class started, I found out that this would be no easy task. Every day we have to spend a total of forty minutes practicing commands with our dogs at home, and we are now able to have our dogs in public with us everywhere we go. At school, out shopping…everywhere. When we’re out in public with the dogs we have to constantly make sure our dogs are doing what they are supposed to be doing; which includes maintaining a good heel at all times, not barking or getting out of control, and practicing commands, such as “wait” when we go through doors.
I have been in this program for five months so far, and I have learned so much. I’ve learned so much about service dogs themselves, about the Americans with Disabilities Act, and how much service dogs can benefit those in need. There are so many people out there who could greatly benefit from having a service animal, but there are so few dogs being trained. I would love to see this new program expand and spread throughout this country, and maybe even further, so that more people in the disability community can have the opportunity to receive one of these wonderful animals. Not only that, but more students would be learning about service animals and the disability community and gaining a higher respect and knowledge for both.
To any students looking to be a part of a program like this one, just keep in mind that it takes a lot of dedication, hard work, time and effort. It isn’t always fun, and by no means is it always easy. What it always is, though, is rewarding. It’s a great feeling knowing that you’re going to make a huge difference in somebody’s life, and that while you’re helping that one person, you are also educating so many more people about service dogs and about the disability community.
I want to thank Brittney for sharing what it’s like to be a dog handler in the Puppy Raising Program. It’s kids like her that restore my faith in the next generation. We give Brittney and her dog Sam four paws up.