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Able’s Journey to Becoming a Service Dog

service dog with people sitting around it

September is National Service Dog Month, a time celebrating the efforts of these incredible working animals. Throughout the United States, there are over 500,000 service dogs helping people to live independent lives. For almost two years, we have been able to follow the journey of one of these very special dogs. In Fall of 2017, we asked for help naming a puppy at Canine Partners for Life, an organization that has trained service and companion dogs for 30 years. They have worked hard to place more than 750 dogs throughout the country in addition to supporting 200 active teams and training 50-70 new service dogs. With your help, we were able to name Able, a Yellow Labrador Retriever who was born in February of 2018.

Able the service dog inside a wheelchair vanFor his first few months, Able socialized with other puppies in a volunteer community home. Since that time, he spent a year training in the Prison Puppy Raising program, which runs in 8 prisons throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland. Inmates at these participating prisons can apply for the program, which they are accepted into by exemplifying good behavior and after being vetted. One puppy is then assigned to two participants who are roommates, one of whom acts as the primary handler and the other of whom acts as a secondary handler.

During their time together, inmates focus on obedience training with the dogs, teaching them simple skills and basic commands like sit, stay and lie down. This time also helps dogs to get used to being groomed and to spending time with many new people. CPL staff or volunteers frequently visit the puppies to take them on field trips to experience the environment outside of prison, to ensure they are being properly trained, and to keep a record of their progress. This program is a fantastic opportunity for both the inmates and the puppies who are involved.

Able recently finished this program and returned to CPL in July. He is now starting to learn more formal commands that will allow him to assist someone with everyday activities such as turning a light switch on and off, paying a cashier, opening and closing doors, drawers, and cabinets, and his favorite- helping to get dressed. After he is matched with a person, he’ll learn additional skills that will help them serve that specific individual in the best way possible.

Able’s trainer Victoria says that he loves to work and is so sweet yet a little goofy. While he still has several months of training, he has the potential to be matched with someone in December or January. At that point, his training will be customized based on that individuals’ specific needs. They will be matched based on how well they fit together in personality, energy and lifestyle. Since Able is turning out to be quite a big dog, he will be a great companion for someone who needs help with mobility and balance. Depending on how his training goes, Able will be a graduate of the spring or summer 2020 class. We are looking forward to seeing and sharing news of his progress!

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