For this article, I decided to take a different approach. I’m sure there are plenty of awesome holidays this week, but I’m going to focus on a particular job that we talk about a lot, but we’ve never really delved into. I spoke with Andrea Dube, a rehab nurse at a local hospital and a volunteer puppy raiser and mentor with Paws With A Cause.
Handlers of service dogs are given a new lease on life; the dog gives them newfound independence, constant companionship, and often keep their handler from feeling isolated. Service dogs can be life changing, even if you are not the handler. Before training service dogs, Andrea was shy and not all too confident. Once she started training dogs, however, she found it easier to be more outgoing.
“Once you have a cute little puppy at the end of the leash,” Dube says, “fading into a crowd is not possible. The crowd finds you and asks multiple questions. As I learned dog handling skills and to be the leader my confidence grew. Before I know it I was speaking in front of small groups, then larger groups then speaking on a national stage.”
Because Ms. Dube answered all my questions so eloquently, I decided to simply add the interview into the post.
1 Fur 1: What made you want to go into this line of work?
Dube: Well I don’t get paid to this #1. I am a volunteer puppy raiser and Mentor to other puppy raisers. This is what I do when I am not at work. I decided to raise a puppy to pay it forward. My Mom received a Black Lab Named Owen in 2005. She had mobility issues and fatigued easily. She was also very depressed not being able to return to work and live without being dependent on another person. Owen gave her a new life. She could live and travel alone. And if anyone has every lived with a lab, they make you laugh daily. My #1 puppy came home in 2006. His name was Tank. I thought I would stop with one but #11 will be coming home soon. Once you’ve trained a puppy and see them go on to change another life you can’t say no to doing it one more time.
1 Fur 1: How has training service dogs changed your life?
Dube: The friends I have met along this journey is a added bonus. Young & old, other puppy raisers, clients, Paralympic athletes and PAWS staff have all become my family. Friends from many states that I would have never met if it wasn’t for puppy raising.
1 Fur 1: What advice would you give to people who want to train service dogs?
Dube: First thing I would say is that you will never be sorry you did it. Even once. Yes you have to be strict & consistent with training. they cannot be spoiled. It’s hard at first. You don’t think you know what you are doing, you don’t think you could ever give them up (yeah that’s a tough part) new puppies are newborn babies- they don’t sleep, they cry, they pee on the rug a million times. But with time and training and a little love they flower into a strong confident dog. You can say “I did that” They make you so proud with each time they “get it”. You are so excited as they go off to doggy college. what will they do? where will they live? How will they help someone? It is a great family project and teaches kids to do something for another person. You are giving your heart away so someone else can live. That’s a great lesson. we have several families that have asked the kids if its too tough, their response is always No Mom we want to do it again.
1 Fur 1: How have your separate experiences, with training, working in a hospital, using service dogs differed? How are they alike?
Dube: I am a rehab nurse. This means I teach people how to walk and talk and dress themselves again after some life changing event. I takes lots of repetition to get positive results. I have to be the cheerleader. Some days potty training adults and puppies can be very similar. I’m teaching people tools to use to make each task easier. A service dog can be one of those tools. Most of both jobs is Education. Education of the patient and the families & education of the public. I’m teaching what a service dog can do and what is appropriate behavior for the puppy and the people who try to interfere with our training. “Oh it says do not pet? I know that sweet puppy won’t mind a bit!” I am teaching the clients what their rights are under the ADA and to try to educate the public when their rights are being violated. As I’m training I get very rude comments like “you don’t look blind” or “we don’t allow pets in here”. When I can clarify the rules with the uneducated it’s that much easier for the disabled person who comes behind me to be treated with the respect they deserve. Many disabilities are invisible. It’s against the law to ask what is wrong with you, and it’s plain rude.
1 Fur 1: What does Paws With A Cause bring to the table?
Dube: I love all service dog organizations, but PAWS is very special to me for many reasons. They custom train each dog for each client. No dog is exactly the same, as no person is. They match the dog’s personality to the clients. They also do all the custom training in the client’s community. It’s tough with someone with a disability has to travel and go to “boot camp” to learn how to use the dog. They also provide lifetime training of the dog. If you 1st needed a cane but now need to use a wheelchair, PAWS is there to add to the dogs training. They monitor the condition & the training of the dogs every 2 years to make sure they haven’t lost any skills and are being treated well and are at a good weight to work.
PAWS With A Cause is a non-profit – all the dogs they train are at no cost to their new owner. Training dogs can get to be quite expensive, but PAWS relies on the generosity of donors to make their work happen. PAWS also keeps their dogs from losing their training by checking up on each dog every two years, ensuring that they haven’t forgotten what they learned.
Thanks again, Andrea, for your experience and expertise!