If you happen to see a yellow lab/golden retriever mix puppy on campus this semester, it’s likely Taylor Orem’s service-dog-in-training. The Millersville University sophomore is training “Fidler” to serve an individual with disabilities. Orem decided to get involved with Susquehanna Service Dogs this past summer.
“This is my first personal experience with raising a service animal. My dad has been a K-9 handler for over 10 years and it’s always so interesting watching him and the other handlers train the dogs. I think that it made a big impact on my decision on wanting to become a puppy raiser,” says Orem.
Susquehanna Service Dogs is an organization that raises, trains and places service dogs with individuals in order to give them more independence. Orem says working with Fidler has been a great experience, and she hopes to raise awareness about the importance of service dogs and get more people involved in the program.
When you become a puppy raiser, you welcome an 8-week-old puppy into your home. The puppy is with you for about a year and a half as you teach them house manners and various skills such as obedience and self-control. Throughout the journey of raising a service dog, you attend puppy classes and take the dogs to a variety of places such as stores or restaurants. After you’ve raised the puppy, they enter advanced training with Susquehanna Services Dogs trainers where they learn more specific and complex tasks affiliated with assisting their future partners.
Although Fidler does live on campus with Orem, he has yet to go to classes with her. She hopes to bring him to classes this semester. Students love seeing Fidler around campus, and some of those students have even become interested in being puppy raisers themselves after meeting Orem and Fidler.
“The hardest thing about having a dog on campus is balancing schoolwork along with a job but my friends have been extremely supportive and helpful through the process, they treat Fidler like their own,” says Orem.
Fidler is almost eight months old and although he has many more months of training ahead of him, he has demonstrated a lot of determination and willingness to learn new things.
When applying to be a puppy raiser, a trainer knows that the puppy will be with them temporarily. Without a doubt, it will be hard for Orem to say goodbye to Fidler but knowing that he will impact someone’s life and create a bond with his future partner makes her so excited for his future.
“Seeing the amazing impact that the dogs have on their partners made me decide to be a puppy raiser. Seeing the independence and joy that the dogs provide to their partners is so heartwarming,” says Orem.
To become a volunteer, you can fill out the puppy raiser application on the Susquehanna Service Dogs website. If your schedule is too busy for the commitment of being a puppy raiser, you can apply to be a puppy sitter, meaning you watch the dogs in training for a short amount of time if the raiser’s aren’t available to take care of the dogs.