COLORADO SPRINGS — A golden retriever/lab named Rumba lays calmly with her eyes continually looking back and forth from her owner sitting next to her in a wheelchair. Rumba is watching for signals telling her help is needed. “She makes it so that it's safe for me to go out on my own without having to have somebody with me all the time.” Rumba is Michelle Kephart’s service dog.
Service dogs are important contributors to the Southern Colorado Community.
“She can turn light switches on and off; when we're out and about if there's a crosswalk button that's out of my reach; can go push it for me, opens doors,” said Kephart. One of the most helpful things Rumba does is pick up items that have been dropped.
Kephart is also grateful to the string of volunteers and dog training professionals who get service dogs ready to go to work.
For example puppy raisers work with prospective service dogs for a year and then turn them over to groups like Guide Dogs for the Blind or Canine Companions.
“I don’t know how they do this, but none of this could happen without them,’ said Kephart.
Holly Niewinski has raised 22 puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. “You fall in love. And then you have to give the puppy back. So it is a huge commitment”
The puppies need to learn basic commands like any dog should know.
They also need some extras specific to people with disabilities. They will will leave their puppy trainers knowing 30 to 40 commands.
“They really accompany us everywhere, whether it's to a doctor's appointment, or performance or an art gallery or going out for coffee. They really have to learn how to behave and in everyday life, so they're with us all the time,” said Laurel Prud’homme who has raised three service puppies.
The volunteers also get training and guidance. The puppies selected by service dog groups are sent to the volunteers. While they are together the volunteers pay for things like food and veterinarian care.
Puppy raisers know the arrangement is temporary.
We get them at eight weeks old, we have them for a little over a year,” said Prud’homme, “But when they go on, and give that independence to somebody and make their lives that much better, it makes it all worth it.
September is National Service Dog Month.
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