Puppy love

Karen Clark volunteers to raise and train puppy Forbes for Canine Companions for Independence

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  • PHOTO PROVIDED Karen Clark and Forbes. Clark is raising the lab puppy for Canine Companions for Independence.

"It married my love of animals and helping other people."
Karen Clark of Newfoundland on why she is raising a puppy for Canine Companions for Independence

Karen Clark is a new volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organization that provides assistance dogs to children, adults and veterans with disabilities. Volunteer puppy raisers are critical to the success of the organization.

This past February, Clark, who lives in Newfoundland, picked up the first service puppy she will train, a yellow Labrador retriever named Forbes.

Clark has agreed to raise, train and socialize him until he is about a year and a half old, at which time she’ll return him to the regional training center at Medford, Long Island.

There, he and other dogs from the program will undergo further professional training for six months and learn 40 additional advanced commands. The dogs will be evaluated for their strengths.

At the end of that period, applicants from CCI’s waiting list will be offered the chance for advanced one-on-one “Team Training” matched with a potential dog partner for a two-week period. After that, there is a graduation ceremony and the recipient will take the dog home. Forbes will find his forever owner.

Why volunteer?Clark, who often volunteers in the community, said, she did it “to help somebody else who can’t do it themselves.”

Clark already works for Creature Comfort Pet Therapy, a non-profit headquartered in Morristown. For almost four years, she has visited hospitals, nursing homes, schools and hospices with a Great Dane and a rabbit, to bring comfort to adults and children.

She’s been a youth leader at her church, Green Pond Bible Chapel, for many years, helping with activities and trips. She’s also fostered shelter dogs, but has suspended that activity in order to concentrate on raising Forbes.

Perfect environment to raise a puppyWhy be involved with Canine Companions? “It married my love of animals and helping other people,” said Clark.

Clark works part-time from home and homeschools her children, noting it’s the perfect environment for raising a puppy.

“My kids help with housetraining and socialization, and play games with the dog to (help him) learn his commands,” said Clark.

The dog learns basics, such as to sit and to settle under the table if they are at a restaurant, she said.

“I also teach appropriate greeting and ‘leave it’ for things on the floor, other dogs, people.”

She teaches lap — to put something on a person’s lap; out, hold, and getting in and out of the car, among other commands.

Teaching Forbes basic commands and positively socializing him so he has no bad experiences that could possibly inhibit his work or training later is Clark’s main goal. Forbes must learn to live with kids, noises, cars and bikes — all the things that he may encounter in the future.

He, like other CCI dogs, wears a special yellow cape that indicates he is an assistive dog in training and is therefore permitted to go to many public areas where family pets aren’t allowed.

Being a puppy raiserPuppy raisers agree to take on food and vet care costs.

“That helps the organization to provide the dogs for free,” said Clark.

Donors help cover the cost of dogs and their training — upwards of $50,000 per dog.

“In doing pet therapy, I’ve seen how difficult it is to get around, even in an assistive facility,” Clark said. “I can’t image (how difficult it is) at home. So I’ve seen and appreciate the need for assistive dogs.”

Will it be difficult to let him go of Forbes after a year and a half of raising him? Yes, said Clark. But she knows how invaluable Forbes will be to his new owner.

For more information on Canine Companions for Independence, visit cci.org or call 1-800-572-BARK (2275).

Aug. 6 to 12 is International Assistance Dog Week, created to raise awareness about the invaluable service these dogs perform and to honor the volunteer puppy raisers and the professional trainers who are critical to CCI's mission.
CCI trains four types of assistance dogs:
Service dogs - assist adults with physical disabilities by performing daily tasks.
Hearing dogs - alert their partners, who are deaf and hard of hearing, to important sounds.
Facility dogs - work with clients with special needs in a visitation, education, criminal justice or health care setting.
Skilled companions - enhance independence for children and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities.
The dogs, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and crosses between the two, are bred at their national headquarters in Santa Rosa, California. When the dogs are weaned, they are flown to one of CCI's six regional headquarters across the country, where they are adopted by volunteer puppy raisers.
Right now there is about a year and a half wait to be invited to the final Team Training and matched with a dog. This is why volunteers who raise puppies are so important to the organization. The more puppies that are being raised, the more people they can serve.
"We have experienced tremendous growth," Jennifer Ferraioli, Northeast Region Puppy Program manager, said. "2016 was a record-breaking year in births of new puppies. So we are trying to make more placements and service more people. We need more puppy raisers. If you've thought about it, now's the time to apply."
For more information, visit cci.org or call 1-800-572-BARK.

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