There could be little doubt that Andrea Spencer is a canine particular person.
Nico with volunteer coach Andrea Spencer. Photograph from Canine Companions
The Stony Brook resident has rescued Labradors since 2011, fostering and coaching them whereas they have been ready for his or her ceaselessly properties. She additionally co-chairs the DogFest Lengthy Island fundraiser at Marjorie R. Publish Group Park in Massapequa and is presently elevating a pet, Nico VI, for Canine Companions.
This can be a nationwide nonprofit group based in 1975 that gives extremely skilled help canine to folks with disabilities freed from cost. Pet raisers present specifically bred puppies a secure house, take them to obedience lessons, serve them a nutritious diet, present socialization alternatives and provides them a number of love. Every hour spent caring for a Canine Companions pet is important to its improvement as a future service canine.
Spencer’s puppy-raising journey started with a rescued yellow Lab named Ruby, who got here from Louisiana to reside with Spencer and her household. She remembers her fondly.
“She was actually my coronary heart canine,” Spencer stated. “She was actually the canine that introduced me into all of my volunteer work.”
Round 2017, a good friend first talked about Canine Companions as a potential service alternative, and the group saved getting into Spencer’s life. She attended a few pet matriculation ceremonies, a form of commencement the place the canine transfer on from dwelling with their raisers to formal coaching on the Canine Companions heart. It was a turning level for Spencer.
“The commencement was an inspirational, stunning, fantastic factor,” she stated. “It was mainly simply life altering for me so far as working with Canine Companions.”
After a protracted, joyful life, Ruby handed from lung most cancers in August 2020. Spencer credit this loss because the catalyst for her pet elevating.
“And as soon as we form of settled from that storm, my husband stated, ‘We’ve all the time thought at the back of our heads, you’d love to do one thing extra for Canine Companions. Why don’t we elevate a pet in Ruby’s honor?’ I stated, ‘ what, that’s such an incredible thought.’”
The household started the method, first with the appliance in January 2021, then an in depth interview in March of that 12 months. As soon as that a part of the method was over, and so they have been authorized, all that was left to do was wait.
That September, Nico arrived in New York, and the Spencers have been now elevating a future service canine for Canine Companions.
Nico is a Lab/golden retriever cross, which is a particular combine Canine Companions breeds for its service canine program. This combine is each personable and really trainable. Spencer stated that there are numerous issues Nico picks up on with out coaching, and when she does practice him, he learns rapidly.
“With the Spencer household’s love and steerage, Nico is on his approach to changing into a Canine Companions service canine, and can sometime be matched with an grownup, youngster or veteran with a incapacity freed from cost,” stated John Bentzinger, Canine Companions regional public relations and advertising and marketing coordinator, in an electronic mail. “Nico is being taught primary instructions and socialization expertise and, in one other seven to 10 months, he’ll be returned to Canine Companions the place he’ll work for six months with our skilled instructors studying over 40 superior instructions which are helpful to an individual with disabilities. Nico will discover ways to open and shut doorways, flip lights on and off, and decide up dropped gadgets to call only a few.”
One of many largest challenges is coaching the puppies to manage their pleasure.
“They’re actually bred to like folks and be with folks and be with all people,” Spencer stated. “So that really gives somewhat little bit of a problem as a pet raiser as a result of they actually wish to go see all people and so they get excited. So, we work on having good manners in public.”
Being in public and being properly socialized is crucial to the service canine’s success. The canine needs to be comfy in a number of places on quite a lot of surfaces. “We wish him to be utterly targeted in these places, not simply within the house the place he is almost all of the time,” Spencer stated.
Some instructions are particular to his coaching as a service canine.
“They’re taught to bark a sequence of three, 4 or 5 occasions, after which quiet is paired with that as a result of they don’t need the barking for 20 minutes,” she stated. “They only need you barking to form of alert somebody.”
There’s a enormous community of assist for individuals who resolve to lift puppies for Canine Companions. Not solely are there casual connections with different volunteers, however the nationwide nonprofit gives every raiser with a mentor known as a “pet pal.”
“It’s a mentoring program with a raiser who’s raised a minimum of three canine,” Spencer stated. “They hook you up with that particular person and all through their puppyhood, you’ll be able to name them or electronic mail them or textual content them.”
After all, the No. 1 factor Spencer will get requested is how she’s going to really feel when Nico leaves her care and goes on to formal coaching.
“The Lab rescue was like my coaching or my internship,” she stated. “I’d have fosters in my home anyplace from one week to 2 months, after which they might go on to their adoptive properties. And consider me, it wasn’t straightforward, however you see that you simply’re serving to. I feel having a resident canine in the home helps. I take a look at this not like Nico’s my pet, however he’s my job. It’s important to have the fitting mindset for it.”
She additionally credit her son, Jared, who has Autism, for serving to to forge a reference to Nico’s future recipient.
“I feel having a toddler who’s disabled and seeing that this group serves that neighborhood has made that connection for me.”
For Spencer, the choice to lift once more is a given.
“I’ll positively elevate once more, as a result of it’s simply such a beautiful expertise,” she stated. “I feel as you subsequently elevate, although it’s completely different, you’ve gotten the entire primary information, the coaching instruments, the understanding of what they should be taught. After all, you’re going to have completely different obstacles with every pet, as a result of puppies are like people, they’re all completely different. However sure, I positively assume we’ll elevate once more.”
Her recommendation for folks contemplating elevating is simple.
“I feel should you’re contemplating elevating it’s important to have a sure mindset, that you simply’re elevating this pet not for you however for to assist any person,” she stated. “You positively have to have the whole household on board, as a result of it does turn into a household affair. You’re going to have challenges, however you’re going to even have nice successes. There’s a very robust community of assist proper right here on Lengthy Island. And actually, we’ve turn into a household. We name it the Canine Companion household. And it’s one thing that’s so rewarding on so many ranges. And you recognize, hopefully extra folks will take part and participate on this as a result of with out the pet elevating there are not any canine.”