being a foster family for service dog, le copain, training a service dog, volunteering with dogs
Eighteen months ago I wrote about my excitement upon being accepted as a foster family to train a service dog : L is for Service Dog and Service Dogs : How and Why to Become Involved.
After a rollercoaster 15 months of training, this past Saturday I handed Voice’s leash to Le Copain’s caretakers and watched as he was led away. My heart broke. They call it “samedi des pleurs”; loosely translated as Saturday of Crying. But the tears keep coming. I miss our kind, intelligent, handsome chocolate Labrador. I miss him waiting for me at the bottom of our stairs, having to set my socks up high so he doesn’t snatch them and run off to play but most of all I miss him poking me and stomping when he’s decided it’s time for dinner.
I have to admit I am surprised by my emotions. Training and encouraging a puppy to have the disposition, intelligence, curiosity and drive to become a Service Dog was a stressful undertaking for me. My life revolved around this dog. He would go to the grocery store, restaurants, office and public transport with me. I thought I would be happy with my freedom when he left but instead I keep looking for him.
Now Voice, along with three other Labradors and four Golden Retrievers (pictures here), has embarked on the second stage of his education to becoming a Service Dog. I’m told that he now shares a large kennel with another dog. In the mornings, he has free time. He’s let out to play in the fields with the other dogs or roam the office with the Copain staff. In the afternoons, he is taken out and about in Sion and Sierre (Valais) to continue his socialization as well as train at the center learning to open and close doors, turn lights on and off, pick up and fetch items, as well as move laundry into the washer and dryer.
The first months are dedicated to evaluating Voice’s character and developing his skills. Then based on extensive interviews with potential recipients, Voice and the other dogs will be presented to a few potential families. After spending time together, a match is made. He may be selected to help a person with limited mobility, give comfort and support to a child with autism, or keep a person safe who has narcolepsy or epilepsy. The following months are dedicated to training Voice to support his new person’s specific needs.
In June the chosen recipients come to Valais for two weeks to live in nearby apartments. Dogs and people will train and live together. This is the critical time when the families and trainers decide if the dog and recipient are able to be responsible for each other. If the match is a success, on June 17 my family and I will formally give Voice to his new family during a ceremony which celebrates Voice, explains the challenges facing his new family, and predicts the difference Voice will make in his new person’s life.
The number of dogs in the US and Europe who make it into service is approximately 50%. Any number of things can disqualify them: health, pulling on the leash, chasing balls, jumping into lakes or not returning on command. With the exception of Voice’s passion toward cats, I have full confidence in him. I am certain he will go on to be an excellent companion and assistant to his new person.
We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/
Tear in my eye when reading this too. You did a brilliant job.
Thank you! It definitely helps to write about Voice and our experience together.
Ethel A. Kunz said:
Hello, I absolutely adored reading your articles. My daughter, 18, is interested in working with guide dogs and has decided to do a school project on the subject. We live in Geneva, but have not really found much information, and absolutely no books, neither French nor English. Since you have been through this experience and seem to have such great knowledge, I am wondering if you might be able to point us in the right direction.
Ethel, my daughter also did her Swiss Collège thesis on service dogs/chien d’assistance. Unfortunately, she gave her research books to a library in the US. The website https://www.info-handicap.ch/fiches/vie-communautaire/relations-avec-les-autres/animaux-de-compagnie.html?view=listcats points you to various organizations in Switzerland that train service dogs; and there are many books written by people who have had service dogs. There is also a website called research gate that finds articles : https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232478105_Benefits_of_assistance_dogs_A_review
We still keep in touch with Voice and his new family. Initially he was placed with a woman who had epilepsy. That did not work out. A bit over a year ago he moved in with a young family. He’s helping a fantastic boy with a muscular disease. I can’t say more due to privacy reasons but Voice means everything to that family.
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