Saturday, December 11, 2010

From Puppy Raiser to Placement--The Journey Of A Service Dog

Polar, a 12 week old yellow Labrador retriever, came to live with us on April 8, 2007. He was the first puppy from Service Dogs of Virginia to participate in US Airs Puppies in Flight Program, a program that transports Service Dogs at no charge within the United States.

Polar quickly became a beloved part of our family and community. We loved taking him everywhere with us and he made friends everywhere we went. He attended School Events, Church services, trumpet lessons, dance classes, marching band rehearsals, Dr. Appts and pretty much everything else we did.   Polar grew up coming to my classes and wowed everyone with his talents. I would  send weekly Pup Dates to Service Dogs of Virginia along with Video of his progress and loved sharing stories of all his antics, and there were many .

Polar has more personality than any dog I have ever raised. He went through a ‘curious’ phase and ate my sons iPod, the keys off my husbands laptop, random pieces of lawn furniture, knocked our X-Mas Tree over and it broke in half. He used to enjoy hiding in my kids bathtub and would wait for them to come in so he could jump out and surprise them. His grand finale was eating a bar of soap, I think he was finally trying to 'clean up his act'.

But for all his antics Polar was the most amazing dog to train and work with. He LOVED to work and learned things quickly. He was rock solid in public and always amazed me at how he could handle stressful or new situations. As a trainer I’ve learned to look beyond the silly behaviors as those are trainable and look more at the dogs work ethic. I knew that with time and maturity Polar would be an awesome service dog.

Being a Puppy Raiser is a labor of love and an amazing experience for myself and my family. To know that you played a part in something that has such a big impact on someones life is a blessing.

Polar returned to Charlottesville at 16 months of age and moved in with his next Foster Family who continued his advanced training and kept him out of trouble during his teenage years. His advanced training lasted approximately 1 1/2 years.  During this time the trainers at SDV were busy teaching him new skills and determining who they would place him with.

In December 2009 Polar was placed with Luke Morris, a young man who was injured in a diving accident and sustained a spinal cord injury leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.  Polar helps Luke with daily tasks such as opening doors, picking up dropped items and even assists him in getting dressed.  Along with being Lukes Service Dog, Polar is his constant companion.  Luke enjoys the outdoors and Polar is always at his side and ready to partake in any and all activities, especially Mudd Bogging which involves driving a pickup truck into a mudd pit.

On December 5, 2010 I had the honor of attending Polar and Lukes Graduation in Charlottesville Virginia.  My husband John and I spent our first day in Virginia visiting Luke and Polar. We had not seen Polar since his return to Charlottesville in March 2008.  It was a thrilling moment to see Polar after all this time, no longer a puppy but a working Service Dog.  There is so much emotion, we were so happy to see Polar, after all we raised him from a small puppy, but now he is all grown up and has a new life. 

People would often ask me how we could give him back, wouldn’t it be too hard.   Of course you grow very attached to your foster puppy but there is a bigger picture. While we enjoyed having Polar with us and loved him like he was our own dog, we knew that the person who would someday receive him as their Service Dog would have a relationship that goes beyond just a family companion. We knew that Polar would change someones life, give them more independence and become their best and most trusted friend.

Since Polar has been with Luke I have become Face Book Friends with his Mom Linda. We have communicated via Face Book for the past year sharing stories and pictures and she has always affirmed that all our hard work was worth it. When Linda speaks about Luke and Polar and the bond between them, I can hear the joy in her voice.    When I met Linda in person I felt as if we had been friends for years.   We will forever be connected to the Morris Family through the wonderful and amazing Polar.

We are now anxiously awaiting the arrival of our next Puppy from Service Dogs of Virginia :)


  1. Awesome! Do you mind if i add your blog to my blog?

  2. Please do, thanks for sharing Polars story :)


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