Puppy Love: Volunteer to Help Service Dogs

There is a volunteer opportunity for dog lovers just waiting to unleash some of their free time. ADAI (Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence) is supported locally by The Ability Center to help people with disabilities. This is an opportunity for community members who love puppies (who doesn’t?) and who want to lend a helping hand.

Perry with his Cub Scout pack friends
Perry with his Cub Scout pack friends

Puppy Kindergarten

ACT Volunteer Coordinator Audrey Johnson notes that ADAI consistently receives new litters of future service dog puppies that need to be socialized. The program, called Puppy Smart Start, is an important aspect of ACT’s mission to make Toledo the most disability-friendly community in the U.S.

To help out ADAI in other ways, you can volunteer your location to host Hug a Pup, events where the puppies from Smart Start are brought to different places so they can be exposed to new environments and more people. Businesses and individuals volunteer their spaces for this event. For example, Maddie and Bella and First Federal Bank have hosted these meet-and-greets.

Along with socialization for the puppies, Hug a Pup is an opportunity for the community to learn more about ADAI’s mission; it’s also a way to brighten people’s day.

“It’s a trifecta of goodness,” says Johnson. “From the time the puppies are very young— up to 14 weeks old— is when they should be getting as much exposure to people so they can calculate and absorb much better than they do when they start a little older.”

Susan Maziarz and Franklin, an ADAI graduate
Susan Maziarz and Franklin, an ADAI graduate

Puppy Sitters, Furloughs, & Fosters

ADAI has other programs with varied levels of volunteer commitment that extend through the dogs’ development until they enter final training at 18 weeks. For instance, if you are interested in fostering but don’t have transportation, then you may become a dog sitter. A foster will drop off the dog at your home and then pick them up later in the day.

The benefit of dog sitting is that “you get to see a lot of different ages of dogs and what they are capable of,” says Johnson. “Sitters can take anything from puppies on the weekend to final training dogs.”

For those looking to spend even more time with the dogs, ADAI has a furloughing partnership with Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian, MI. The inmates at the facility care for the dogs most of the time, but the dogs also leave on furlough to spend time with other volunteers so they can experience more community exposure.

adai-puppies-1

For a more involved commitment, you can volunteer to be a full-time foster, caring for a dog from the time it is 12 weeks to two years old. “They do all kinds of personal care, public access training, commands, and obedience training,” explains Johnson.

ADAI has over 170 volunteers, ranging from high school age to seniors. One of many perks— volunteers 55 and older can be reimbursed for mileage and lunch through ADAI’s partnership with the Area Office of Aging.

“Everybody gets something different from it,” Johnson says of volunteering. “Some say they want to be in it to help the community; others do it because they love animals. Many do it because they know how important living independently is, and they want to help that mission. It’s just a great benefit for everyone.”

Visit abilitycenter.org to learn more, and contact Audrey Johnson at ajohnson@abilitycenter.org to volunteer.

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