Elgin couple finding out what it takes to raise service dog
The new puppy romping around the Elgin home of Cathy Purvis and Scott Bothwell is no ordinary dog.
Yes, Purvis and Bothwell are teaching 6-month-old Trione to sit, fetch and avoid accidents in the house like all other pups.
But he also has advanced training ahead that will literally change someone's life.
That's because Trione is part of Canine Companions for Independence, a nationwide nonprofit organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs for adults and children with disabilities for free.
The program specially breeds golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers or a mix of the two. After the puppies are ready to separate from their mothers, they are placed with volunteers across the nation like Purvis and Bothwell, who are then tasked with raising them for the next 18 months and working on socialization and obedience training.
"Our major responsibility right now is helping Trione gain the confidence to know new environments," Purvis said. "We are responsible for making sure he can meet and greet animals and other kids without being overly excited and staying in a sit position.
"It's a challenge right now though," she adds with a laugh, "because he's a typical puppy."
The couple also takes Trione to libraries, restaurants and grocery stores when they are permitted, and even to Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee before the stores open on Sunday mornings.
"Spring Hill is good because they are doing some construction and he's hearing the noise, the different smells and seeing the people. All of that is important experience for him, along with getting used to different textures on their paws like asphalt, grass and mulch. If he's not fearful thanks to this exposure, he will know what to do when he goes to into advanced training."
All Canine Companion puppy raisers not only volunteer 18 months of their time, but they also shoulder all expenses for raising the dog during that period. That's why Dr. Anne Grott, Trione's veterinarian with Dundee Animal Hospital, donated a care package to the couple this spring filled with more than $300 in products supplied by Henry Schein Animal Health. This gift helped with essentials like heartworm medicine, bowls, grooming supplies, tooth care and nutritional supplements.
"For us, the most important things to make sure Trione was ready for his whole first year," Dr. Grott said. "This family is going above and beyond and really throwing their hearts out there to raise this puppy, so we wanted to help."
Purvis and Bothwell said they appreciate the gift, since the financial and time commitment of raising a dog like Trione made them hesitate to take on the challenge for many years.
They will continue to train and care for Trione for roughly one more year. Then he will return to one of Canine Companion's regional training centers for another six months of advanced training to master more than 40 specialized commands and become either a service dog, skilled companion, hearing dog or facility dog. (Each serves different needs based on disabilities like blindness, autism, PTSD or hearing loss.)
This means he will learn tasks that may include important day-to-day activities like turning on light switches, opening drawers or placing credit cards on a store counter.
Once he finishes this level of training, Trione will finally be teamed with a potential new owner for an intensive two week training period.
Purvis said she has supported Canine Companions for many years as a donor, but had another reason besides time and expenses that kept her from volunteering to raise a puppy: she feared it might be too sad to separate after less than two years.
"I'm OK now, but talk to me in a year," she says, laughing. "But talking to other dog raisers, seeing the dogs do what they were bred to do, seeing what they mean to their new owners has been very helpful to me emotionally. Last summer, Scott and I attended the graduation after the two-week intensive with the dogs and their new owners, and it's amazing to see what the dogs mean to them in such a short amount of time. It's so rewarding to see what these dogs were really meant to do from the very beginning of their lives."
It's too soon for the couple to say if they will continue as puppy raisers, but Pervis said they will certainly continue to support Canine Companions for Independence. Their local Greater Chicagoland Chapter is seeking new volunteers, especially college-age students. Chapter volunteers help with fundraisers, puppy-sitting or puppy raising, and spreading awareness about the program.