By Scott Prater
This past November, in a Washington, Kan. barn, a Yellow Labrador Retriever raised his head for the first time. The floppy-eared, melancholy-eyed puppy had no idea where life might take him, but the people surrounding him already knew he was bound for something special.
Born two days before Veterans Day 2009, this Yellow Lab puppy will spend the first 18 months of his life learning obedience and discipline, then, following another four to six months of intense training, he’ll blossom into an invaluable resource.
Courageous, proud and eager to perform his duty, this Yellow Lab will someday be worthy of the name “Schriever.”
He is one of 10 puppies who were born at KSDS, Inc., an assistance-dog training school in Kansas, on Nov. 9 and 10. Staffers there try to think of themes for litters around the time they’re born as way to keep track of the dogs as they mature and travel the country. Since this litter was born just before Veterans Day, KSDS staffers decided to go for a military theme.
“Our main point in naming the dogs wasn’t some positive public relations stunt,” said KSDS Chief Executive Officer Judith Sifers. “We just wanted to thank our veterans. It was a very small way, we thought, to help increase morale. Fort Hood had just experienced its shooting, and our hearts were going out to everybody in the military.”
Schriever’s brothers and sisters have names like Maramar, Barstow, Beale and Hood.
Yeah. You guessed it. They’re all named after military installations. So, we also have Whidbey, Riley, Meade, Oceana and Vance.
Already well into his training, Schriever is destined to become a Labrador Retriever Assistance Dog. Upon graduating from the KSDS, Inc., he’ll either be assigned as a guide dog, a service dog, or a social dog.
“When Schriever is 18 months old his puppy raiser will bring him back here,” Ms. Sifers said. “We’ll evaluate him, see what his strengths are and what he likes to do. If he loves to retrieve and loves trotting along side a wheel chair then he would make a good service dog. If he loves to be out front and leading the way and likes the harness then he might make a good guide dog. And if he loves everybody then he might make the perfect social dog.
All the jobs assistance dogs perform are important.
Guide dogs are trained to provide mobility assistance to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. With a guide dog’s assistance, people with little or no vision can travel safely and confidently, navigate sidewalks, negotiate street crossings and be alerted to stairs or obstacles. Guide dogs are trained to know left and right, respond to commands to find doors, counters, elevators, escalators, sidewalks and chairs.
Service dogs, on the other hand, are used by people with physical disabilities. The dogs are trained to assist people with such skills as pulling wheel chairs, bracing for balance or transfers, retrieving dropped items, helping with dressing, switching lights on or off and opening or closing doors.
Social dogs are trained to work with a professional in the field of education, counseling, medicine, rehabilitation, retirement and other specialty agencies.
Currently, graduates of KSDS are serving recipients in 32 states across the United States.
KSDS originally opened as Kansas Specialty Dog Service 20 years ago by organizers who recognized a need for an assistance dog supplier in the middle of the country. KSDS is a non-profit organization that subsides on donations and a few grants. Dogs in the program are provided at no cost to recipients.
Ms. Sifers estimates that by the time Schriever is placed with a human, his care, training and medical costs will exceed $15,000. Puppy raisers are unpaid. They also pay all medical bills, spay and neuter costs.
She asked all of the puppy raisers to send pictures and information about the dog as it grows, so that people at the bases can be a part of the process. She said Schriever and his puppy raisers live in Iowa and they have sent pictures.
“Right now, Schriever is at his first puppy class,” she said. “Also, plans are in the works for people to access current information and photos of Schriever at the KSDS Web site (www.ksds.org) and Facebook page.”