By Amy Stephenson
“Looking at a six- to eight-week old puppy, it’s hard to imagine that one day it will be something awesome,” said Beverley Stephenson, who has successfully trained three service dogs here in our community.
Seeing a service dog in action may bring a smile to your face, but for the human it’s serving that dog is life changing. A fully trained service dog significantly impacts quality of life by improving the person’s freedom, independence and safety.
Dog Guides provides service dogs for seven different needs: vision, hearing, autism, diabetes, epilepsy, service and support. Beverley has trained one for vision and two for autism. To fully train the dogs, which are either lab, lab retriever mix or standard poodle, it costs on average $25,000. This gift is given at no cost to individuals in need through the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.
To provide these dogs, there is a dedicated team of breeders, foster families, trainers and support staff. While most of the work happens at the breeding and training centres in Oakville and Guelph, Beverley is part of the volunteer action at the community level.
She provides some insights into this local phase of developing a future service dog. Before a puppy arrives, her home and family were vetted by Dog Guides. They ensured there was adequate space for the dog to sleep, exercise and that the family understood the commitment they were making. Once successful, she was invited to Guelph to pick up the new adventure.
Over the next 12 to 14 months, Beverley works to socialize and ensure the puppy has good basic skills and manners: sit, wait, up, down, and to eat and do its business on command. For Beverley, socializing the puppy is the “fun part.” It’s hard not to smile as you take a puppy through its day and watch it discover the world. The goal is to expose the dog to all aspects of society.
“I love introducing the puppy to the world – escalators, elevators all become exciting. All of a sudden, Costco on a Sunday becomes a whole new challenge,” she said.
But to answer the question on everyone’s mind, how does Beverley give them up?
“Yes, its hard but I am a small part of an amazing process that significantly improves someone else’s quality of life. I know that as much as I love this dog it will do so much more for someone else… and I will get to repeat the adventure anew,” she said.
Beverley got into raising service dogs after the family dog died. “We had enjoyed raising a family dog but were not ready to commit to another 13 to 15 years. This program allows me to enjoy having a dog without the long-term commitment.”
If you see a service dog, the best approach is to understand that it’s working. Never try to pet or distract a service dog from its duties. Speak to the dog’s client with respect, don’t speak to the dog or other support companions.
These rules are extra important when you see a service dog in training. They need to learn to focus on their trainer and not be pulled away by the offering of a cookie or a pat. Yes, it’s hard not to get excited when you see a puppy in the shop, on the bus or just walking down the street in its little green vest. Just remember, it’s training to do something great.
You can support Guide Dogs through various fundraisers. One of them is their adorable Puppy Calendars, which can be purchased for $18 by contacting Beverley Stephenson at email@example.com.