One of the things Canine Companions puppy raiser Andrea Spencer is tasked with is exposing her dog Nico to as many different experiences as possible. Nico, a 15-month-old cross between a Labrador and …
One of the things Canine Companions puppy raiser Andrea Spencer is tasked with is exposing her dog Nico to as many different experiences as possible. Nico, a 15-month-old cross between a Labrador and golden retriever, is in his final days with his raiser, Spencer.
On Sept. 29, 2021, Spencer picked up the 8-week-old Nico and brought him back to her house, where she would raise him and teach him basic commands. Nico’s ultimate goal is to become a full-fledged service dog for Canine Companions, which will be determined after he attends professional training at the organization’s center in Medford over the coming weeks. Service dogs from Canine Companions are paired with individuals with physical or developmental disabilities, adults who are deaf or hard of hearing as well as professionals working in health care, visitation, educational or criminal justice settings who can demonstrate that a service dog will enhance their independence or quality of life. Unlike therapy or emotional support dogs, Canine Companions dogs are able to go with their owner on public transportation such as planes. After reaching out to a contact at MacArthur Airport, Spencer was able to arrange for her and Nico along with another fellow raiser to go through the airport together.
“I would have loved to have gone on a plane with him because you want to get on public transportation, but the opportunity just hasn’t arisen in the year I’ve had him to go on a flight somewhere with him,” Spencer said. “So, I figured that the next thing was getting him to the airport.”
Once at the airport, Spencer and Nico went to the police station and were cleared to get a gate pass that allowed them to get through security. The pair were able to practice commands in a busier environment. In addition, a Southwest plane on a layover heading to Orlando was at MacArthur while they were there, and the pups were invited on the plane so that the dogs could get a feel of the layout. As they were leaving, a flight attendant mentioned to Spencer that there was a girl on the plane who was flying for the first time and was nervous. Nico and Spencer were able to go up and comfort the girl for a few minutes before the plane left.
“It was adorable,” Spencer said of the experience.
Canine Companions puppy program manager Debbie Knatz said that it is important for the puppies to be socialized so that they have as many different experiences under their belt as possible.
“These dogs, the goal for them is to become working service dogs and assisting people with disabilities,” Knatz said. “So, while they’re in their puppy raising homes we ask the puppy raisers to take them out and socialize them in the real world, so that when they are working service dogs they have this experience. So, a lot of times the puppy raisers will take them out to stores and public places and trains, planes, automobiles, everything a service dog would need the puppy raisers expose them to as puppies and get them used to different environments and socialization.”
Nico is the first puppy Spencer has raised for Canine Companions. A longtime member of the Lab rescue community on Long Island, she became involved with the organization after hearing about it from a friend.
“I had never heard of Canine Companions even though I grew up in Port Jefferson, and I live in Stony Brook now and their center is right in Medford,” Spencer said. “I was just really intrigued and she invited me to a graduation in 2017. I went to a graduation and then after that experience, I was basically hooked. The graduations are just so unbelievably emotional. You just see the impact that these dogs have on people in the community.”
Spencer noted that her experience with Canine Companions has been phenomenal and that they even have a mentorship program where first-time puppy raisers are paired up with individuals who have raised at least three puppies. She is able to reach out to her mentor if she has any questions or problems arise. She and Nico attend training at the Medford center twice a month and are able to interact with even more raisers and pups. She encourages anyone to can to look into the program, as the organization is always looking for more puppy raisers.
For more information about Canine Companions and the puppy raiser program visit canine.org.
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