30 Adorable Lab Puppies Need Connecticut Volunteers To Start Them On Their Journey To Become Service Dogs – Hartford Courant
Eight-week-old NEADS World Class Service Dogs puppies may look like your average frisky Labrador, but these adorables serve an important purpose. Dogs will have careers helping people with special physical, neurological and psychological needs through their daily lives.
They do, however, need proper training. Massachusetts-based NEADS is growing and needs volunteer puppy raisers ASAP. The nonprofit wants to recruit Connecticut residents to bring the playful puppies home and spend 12 to 16 months developing them into disciplined pets.
“Those we serve first are people with physical disabilities, in wheelchairs, using a cane. … The second [are] hard of hearing people. The third are autistic children. The last ones are veterans who suffer from PTSD,” said Domenic Cornacchioli, who manages canine operations at NEADS.
The next 30 or so puppies leave their mothers and littermates in late April and May. We need people in Hartford, New London, Middlesex and Windham counties who have the time to spend with puppies, the desire to help those in need and the strength to let their little friends go once they it’s time to move on.
Rachel Gould loves the “cuddle nuggets” she raised and trained. But she had no trouble saying goodbye to them when they were ready to leave her home in Belmont, Massachusetts, for the more advanced training at another NEADS site.
“These are not dogs you could leave at home and they hang around like a pet. They want intellectual stimulation. They want to go out and help people,” Gould said. “It’s like sending kids to college. You miss them, you love them, you are proud of them, but you can’t wait to see what they do.
One man who has benefited from the NEADS assistance dog program is Mike Delisle from Colchester. In 2016, Delisle was doing what he loved to do since he was 18: racing dirt bikes on the amateur circuit. During a race at Sterling, he flew over the handlebars on the last lap. He broke two vertebrae in his neck.
Now 31, Delisle is a quadriplegic, with no mobility in his legs and very limited mobility in his arms and hands. He lives with his parents, Bob and Denise Delisle, and Henry, a NEADS-trained yellow lab. Since Henry moved in in 2019, he’s been next to Delisle’s wheelchair wherever he goes.
“He’s been everywhere with me, Red Sox games, Boston Bruins games, Hartford Wolf Pack games, concerts, Florida, New York, restaurants, Epcot,” Delisle said. “He is well known at the casino. He stares at one of their police dogs every time we go.
Henry opens and closes doors, turns lights on and off, retrieves dropped off Amazon packages, picks up items Delisle can’t get or has dropped.
“I have a hobby: building small RC cars. He can take a 3 millimeter screw and throw it so it lands in my lap,” Delisle said. “He can take a credit card, a penny.
“When I go out alone, I don’t have to worry about dropping anything. Especially now with COVID, I don’t want to report people on the street to help me. And [Henry] don’t sigh or roll his eyes the 50th time he picks up my cell phone for me.
Besides being his constant companion and assistant, Henry also changed Delisle’s life in other ways.
“When I had Henry, two important things changed. He gave me purpose. I had worked full time since I was 16 or 17. I went from employed to unemployed. and I haven’t left the house. What do I do every day? Now I can’t stay in bed. I have to pull myself together so he has a good day,” Delisle said.
“Also, in public, you see me more in a crowd. Sometimes people walk past a guy in a wheelchair if they’re on the phone. But everyone sees a dog. Everyone will stop for a dog. I no longer have to navigate through thick crowds. At Epcot, the crowd opened up for me.
Each recipient of a NEADS dog is invited to raise $8,000 for NEADS to offset the cost of approximately $45,000 to acquire, breed, train and pair a dog. NEADS advisors help grantees raise funds. Delisle achieved his goal in just a few days.
NEADS has trained more than 1,900 assistance dogs since its inception in 1976. Approximately 400 NEADS assistance dogs are currently active nationwide.
Puppies start training when they are only a few days old. At eight weeks, they are ready to move into the breeders’ homes. Once a breeder is approved, NEADS pays for everything: the puppy, vet visits, food, treats, a crate, leashes, the “service dog in training” cape that the dog wears in audience and the nice leader, an important training tool. Some breeders splurge on a few fun items, like toys and other treats.
Once the pup has moved into the home, training becomes part of everyday life, reinforced by weekly virtual visits with a professional NEADS puppy trainer.
“We break it down by week. They teach them up to 24 different commands,” Cornacchioli said.
Socialization is just as important. Breeders need to take dogs to gathering places often, from places that are a bit busy to places that are very busy or even very noisy, like Delisle’s trips to Fenway Park. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows service dogs to go places non-service dogs cannot go.
“We want these dogs to feel comfortable and confident no matter what environment they are in. … If there are loud noises in the background, commotion, that’s okay. We want them to be exposed to everything, people, animals, the whole gauntlet of things,” he said. “Start with the library. Then progress to the supermarket. Then proceed to Home Depot. Then head to the train station.
However, certain socializations are prohibited. Dog parks are particularly damaging, Cornacchioli said.
“Usually dogs in dog parks are off leash and do what they want. It’s not a controlled environment. Dogs can be aggressive. … If our dogs are exposed to it or become victims of it, you can’t not train them. They will never be OK. They will never recover, “he said. Cornacchioli added that dogs in dog parks could have illnesses and that puppies, who may not have -have not yet received all their vaccinations, could catch something dangerous.
Many types of families are ideal candidates to be breeders: retired people, people who work at home, people who work away from home, people with children, people with pets.
“We have dogs with teachers in the classrooms five days a week. We have dogs in the office,” Cornacchioli said.
Gould Takes His Puppies to Work: “I’m a high school teacher. The students are super helpful. My husband and my principal were fine with that.
Breeders with children and dogs need to ensure that they can meet everyone’s needs and that their pets are good mentors for the puppies. “Children’s exposure to a dog is great and welcome. But can the person handle having a puppy and kids? If they’re young kids, newborns, that’s a lot Can they balance the newborn and the dog?, says Cornacchioli.
Bob Bradford of Bedford, Massachusetts, a former dog owner, is raising his first NEADS puppy. He enjoyed the challenge of teaching his NEADS dog, Claudette, the commands that would make her useful.
“There are the basic commands, ‘sit’ and ‘stay’, and there are others, like ‘under’. You teach them to sit under a table in a restaurant or on a bus so that “She doesn’t get in the way of the audience walking down the aisle. You teach them ‘behind,’ for when you’re walking down a narrow aisle,” Bradford said.
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“When you say ‘talk’, it’s not just a frame. It’s three consecutive barks, woof woof woof. It’s to get a neighbor’s attention if someone needs help. If the neighbor hears three barks in quick succession, he knows something is up.
For all the helpfulness of dogs in essential tasks, their human companions also enjoy company, as they get both an assistant and a devoted pet.
At Delisle, Henry has two moods. When his nice leader is on, he knows he is working and doing what he is told and nothing else. When the nice leader is gone, he’s a lively rascal, picking up his stuffed duck and showing it to anyone who comes to visit. “He’s just a joy,” said Bob Delisle.
Regardless of the time of day, however, Henry’s primary focus is Mike Delisle. He sleeps in his room and spends all day, every day by his side.
“He goes everywhere with me. He’s an extension of me,” Delisle said. “If someone invites me somewhere and says don’t bring the dog, I probably won’t go.”
Susan Dunne can be contacted at [email protected].