Look at this beautiful face! This is Chili, a six-month old puppy from Freedom Service Dogs Of America (FSD) in Englewood, CO. He is in training to become a service dog.
As stated on their website, “At Freedom Service Dogs, we unleash the potential of dogs by transforming them into custom-trained, life-changing assistance dogs for people in need. The clients we serve live with disabilities like autism, traumatic brain injury (TBI), multiple sclerosis (MS), muscular dystrophy (MD), Down syndrome, cerebral palsy (CP), spinal cord injuries, and more. We also serve veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTS); however, we do not provide service dogs for non-military civilians diagnosed with PTS. FSD has been recognized nationally for its innovative approach and life-changing work.
Since 1987, FSD has graduated hundreds of client-dog teams. Dogs that are not suitable for service dog work—or “career change” dogs, as we lovingly refer to them— are adopted into forever homes.”
Dawn Kairns and Tom Roll of Boulder are Chili’s puppy trainers and foster family for the next 6-8 months. Tom and Dawn have both raised dogs of their own and have experience as volunteers for the Boulder Humane Society. After losing their last dog, Dawn and Tom fostered dogs for the humane society and Rocky Mountain Lab Rescue but found giving them up to be hard. So how did they end up deciding to be a puppy raisers?
“Honestly, I didn’t think I could do it,” says Dawn. “But then I saw the movie To Be of Service.” The movie is a documentary specifically about veterans and the profound positive benefit service dogs offer them in coping with PTSD. (You can watch the documentary on Netflix.)
Having previously volunteered with FSD, Dawn found herself going to their website over and over again, thinking about volunteering to be a puppy raiser. “Going to the most recent FSD graduation was life changing. It was so touching to see the 12 people there graduate, receive their service dog and know the positive impact it was going to have on their lives. After that, I was convinced it was not only something I wanted to do, but could do.” Tom and Dawn already know saying goodbye to Chili will be hard—but also look forward to the day they see Chili placed with the person he’s going to be of service to.
Chili came home to Boulder on Saturday, January 11. He’s adjusting well to his new home. When I went to meet him on Sunday, Tom and Dawn were marveling at his calm and collected demeanor. When I rang the doorbell yesterday, he was silent. I entered the door and he sat patiently by Dawn’s side on his leash. I entered, sat down and then he was released to see me with the command, “Go visit.”
Chili has already been in several “homes” for training. He started his training at around 2 months in a prison-based dog training program in Colorado that FSD has partnered with. Now his puppy training family will help reinforce the basic skills he has already learned like Sit, Down and Stay and Leave It. He will learn many more basic commands. Later, once he’s paired with his companion, he may also be trained to meet the specific needs of his person such as opening the refrigerator, picking up dropped items, or pushing buttons.
Though content in his crate at night, he’s been protesting his crate time during the day. This is where Dawn and Tom’s previous training skills come in handy. They’ve already been able to work with him to help him feel calmer in his crate while they’re in other parts of the house.
Chili will accompany Dawn and Tom to as many places as possible. One of the big goals for this portion of his training is for him to experience many different environments, textures, sights and sounds. The goal is to help him get comfortable with the big world he will be called on to help his companion navigate. Chili, Tom and Dawn will participate in monthly training with FSD as well as a monthly outing. We can’t wait to see where this journey takes the three of them.
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