When asked to introduce or describe myself, “puppy raiser” is usually the first thing out of my mouth due to it being the thing I am most proud of in my life. It is often followed by arguably less interesting facts, such as that I am nineteen, a soon-to-be junior in college and studying Anthrozoology with an emphasis in disability studies. The idea of puppy raising seems to immediately captivate people, as it did me five years ago.
When I was fourteen I felt lost, as most teenagers do. I had a passion for dogs, but no purpose. Enter puppy raising. I discovered this role online, which involved raising puppies with the goal of them becoming assistance dogs for people with disabilities, and immediately began researching it. By that weekend I had created a PowerPoint presentation to convince my parents that this was my calling. It included bullet points such as how cute the puppy would be, how I would be helping others, and how it would be a great bonding experience for the whole family. We started the application process soon after.
In early 2015 I received my first future service dog to raise. His name was Dan and following him were Princess, Memphis, Elijah, and now Phil. Each puppy has taken me on a different path and taught me new things. Dan taught me resiliency; Princess taught me patience; Memphis taught me dedication; and Elijah taught me confidence. I look forward to discovering the lessons that I will learn from Phil.
About a year ago, good timing and a chance message to the person behind my favorite Instagram account, Elias, led to us meeting and me introducing him to the Canine Companions for Independence® puppy I was training at the time, Elijah. Both Elias and I have a shared love of dogs, which happened to manifest in different ways. His through photography and mine through puppy raising. After we met, I couldn't shake the feeling that more could come from this. It took about 8 months for me to realize what that more was. I pictured a partnership between Canine Companions for Independence and The Dogist, where a future assistance dog would be followed through every step of its life- from puppy raising, to professional training, graduation and beyond. I took a leap of faith and reached out to The Dogist team about my idea. When I sent the initial email, I prepared myself for a response including something along the lines of, “We are not interested.” Instead, I received a warm welcome that included “We love this idea.” A few months of planning and excitement-filled conference calls later, enter Phil.
Canine Companions® puppy Phil is the fifth puppy that I have raised for a purpose. He is a Labrador Retriever/Golden Retriever cross and is currently 9 weeks old. As his puppy raiser, I will be raising Phil until he is about 20 months old for Canine Companions, a national non-profit that places expertly-trained assistance dogs with people with various disabilities free of charge. During that time, I will teach him around 30 commands and other skills such as loose leash walking, ignoring distractions such as people, dogs, and food, and being comfortable and confident in all situations. Much of our journey together will be spent on my college campus, which brings many opportunities for socialization and training. After our time comes to an end, I will return Phil to Canine Companions for an additional six to nine months of professional training before he will hopefully graduate as an assistance dog. Phil has a bright future ahead of him, and I will be sharing more about his future as an assistance dog in an upcoming blog post!
Because puppy raising has had such a profound impact on my life, it makes me want to shout it from the rooftops. That is why this project is so exciting for me: it gives me the opportunity to share puppy raising with others. This partnership is a match made in heaven because here we have an audience of over 3.5 million dog lovers that we can share the gift of puppy raising, service dogs, and Canine Companions. I hope that through sharing Phil’s life, we will inspire others to join in, whether it be through applying for an assistance dog, puppy raising, donating, or volunteering in some other way.
Puppy raising has been invaluable in showing me that experiences that include sadness and heartbreak can also be the most rewarding. Over the 20 months we spend together, the puppy I am training truly becomes my best friend. However, each time I have said goodbye and “lost” one of them, I have gained more than I could have ever imagined. The loss of the puppy is always alleviated by the joy of seeing someone gain independence through a wet nose and wagging tail. I have also gained a community of people with the same passion that I have. When I attended my first puppy raising event, I was amazed that there were other people in the world who wanted to dedicate the majority of their day working with dogs. I knew from that moment that I could never raise just one puppy.
Follow Phil’s personal Instagram account @FosteringPuppies for a look into his day-to-day life and training!