I'm one of about 85 volunteer puppy raisers for NEADS, the National Education for Assistance Dog Services. NEADS is a nonprofit that trains and places service dogs with adults and children with a range of disabilities. Most of the dogs are trained in prisons in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Puppy raisers take the dogs on weekends to expose them to different, real-world experiences.
Samurai is my current puppy-in-training. His name means "to serve and attend without regard for one's self." He was named by a member of the NEADS staff who thought that was an ideal quality for a service dog. Samurai was less than three months old when this photo was taken and was already showing remarkable attention and a calm, focused temperament. After two abbreviated stints with puppies (see Bear and Tinsel) I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Samurai and I are together for the duration.
Rescue, the fire dog
Rescue was named by the Worcester (Mass.) Firefighters Association in memory of Firefighter Jon Davies, who was killed while searching a burning building for victims. It was an honor to have a tiny part in preserving Firefighter Davies' legacy by helping prepare Rescue for his career as a service dog.
Rescue was matched with Jess, who lost her left leg in the Boston Marathon bombing. He has brought such happiness to her and her husband, Patrick. You can learn about this remarkable couple and the fund that NEADS created to make dogs available free of charge to victims of the Marathon attack in this article I wrote for the Boston Globe. On the anniversary of the bombing, Sacha Pfeiffer of WBUR produced this beautiful piece about Rescue, Jess and Patrick for NPR.
Photo credit: John Samolyk
This is Freedom at around four months old. Now she's a full-grown, working service dog. She lives with Erin, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair.
Freedom was named by the members of a VFW in Massachusetts in honor of U.S. servicemen and women.
She has no idea how cute she is
Here's Holly at three months old when she looked like a baby harp seal. Strangers on the street would dart across traffic to say hello to her.
She works as a hearing/service dog for Crystle.
I smile back when I look at her face
We took this picture during Daisy's first weekend with us. The photo on the cover of Weekends With Daisy was taken either right before or right after this shot.
Daisy lives with David, a boy with autism. She makes life a little bit easier for him.
NEADS actually calls them "furloughed favorites" now. These are the dogs that flunked out of the program during training. We've had three and all have been adopted. In fact, there's a long waiting list for dogs who are released from the program because they make excellent pets.
Jones was our first "puppy" in training. We had him for about a month.
Jones was ultimately done in by his addiction to things that moved: chipmunks, birds, squirrels, small children ...
He was adopted by a man who lives in Maine.
We were fortunate to be part of an effort by NEADS to retrain retired racing greyhounds to be balance dogs for people who are unsteady on their feet. It's tough finding dogs who are tall enough for this type of work, and greyhounds seemed ideal. They're much sturdier than they look.
Unfortunately the greyhounds were a tad too territorial to be service dogs. Lucky was adopted by a woman and her mother. He was such a gentleman when he stayed with us that I'm sure he's making them very happy.
Norton is a labradoodle with a cookies and cream coat and a gentle, goofball personality. His distinctive look drew attention everywhere we went.
He flunked because of bad hips. He was adopted by Dave Hessel, NEADS' puppy raiser coordinator, which is great for me because I get to see Norton once a month when Dave brings him to training class.
Being a puppy is exhausting
Tinsel was smart as a whip and adorable. Unfortunately, she was also opinionated -- too opinionated to make it as a service dog. In her opinion, she shouldn't have to share her toys with other dogs, children should keep their distance, and I should not have taken her into that weird, echoey parking garage stairwell that time.
Tinsel was adopted by a couple and their college-age son where, I assume, she's free to express her opinion all she wants.
Bear, 10 weeks old
I had Bear for only four months before the trainers at NEADS decided to mix it up a bit by putting him with a new puppy raiser every couple of months. Some dogs need to learn to become comfortable with many different people; it prepares them for the day when they become a service dog and leave prison and their puppy raiser for good.
Despite everybody's best effort, Bear was released from the program at about 14 months.