Sarah DeYoung, LVT, VTS (CP)
Sarah is our Head Technician at Schmitt's Animal Hospital and has earned her Veterinary Technician Specialty in Clinical Practice - Canine/Feline. Sarah and her family raise and train puppies for Paws with a Cause.
When I first told my husband that I wanted to raise a Paws with a Cause puppy, he said, "There's no way you'll be able to give it back." Well, almost 12 years and 4 foster puppies later I can say that it is possible. Paws with a Cause places custom trained assistance dogs in homes as service dogs, hearing dogs, seizure response dogs and for children with autism. When we picked up our first puppy, Sarge, I thought I knew a fair amount of puppy training because of my profession. I was wrong. During our first class outing to Costco I saw the older dogs and thought that there was no way I was going to be able to train our puppy to be that good! But he turned out great and went on to be a service dog in Louisiana.
Paws provides all the training support so anybody can raise a puppy. We take our puppies to classes at their headquarters in Wayland initially weekly then every other week. This is crucial to their training. They teach us all the steps that will ensure their success in becoming assistance dogs. We attend class outings to places that expose the puppies to different situations and people. They have numerous trainers on staff to help with specific problems you may be facing with your puppy. Each puppy is different and we've had to adjust our training techniques for each of them. For example, one of our puppies liked to "counter surf" and another loves jumping on people. All 4 of our puppies have been very different and we've continued to learn how to train in different ways. This includes how to train a puppy with kids. After raising our first puppy, we took a break to start a family. When our kids were 3 and 5 we decided we were ready to raise another dog. We soon learned that kids can untrain about as fast as we can train them! The kids have since become big helpers and love talking to people about what we do.
We typically have our puppies for about a year. During that time we attend class with them, take them out to various public places, introduce them to numerous situations, noises and people, and also let them be puppies at home. There are certain rules we have to follow, but they are there for a reason. When you see a Paws for a Cause puppy out in public, please do not pet it. They are learning to ignore all the distractions around them and to focus on their handler. This is easier for some dogs than others. Our current puppy, Turbo, is really struggling with this. We haven't been able to take him as many places because he can't successfully handle the distractions and would prefer to say hi to everyone that passes by.
When we turn in our puppy, they go on to a local Michigan prison and are matched up with a prisoner. This person spends the next 4 months making sure each puppy knows the commands we've taught them as well as teaching them a few new ones. This is a mutually beneficial relationship. The prisoner's time with the puppy shortens the time needed for training back at headquarters and the prisoners benefit from the companionship and helping others. After prison, the dog continues 3 levels of training at Paws with a Cause. Phase 1 is making sure they know all the basic commands really well. Phase 2 teaches them specialized retrieving techniques. In Phase 3 they are matched up with a client and taught specific tasks that are customized for that person's needs. Then they spend about 6 months living with their new person in their home before becoming certified as an assistance dog team. It takes a ton of teamwork, time, and money to raise an assistance dog!
The most common question we get asked is, "How can you give them back?". I always tell people that someone else NEEDS this puppy more than I want him. As much as we love each of them and wish we could have them forever, it is so rewarding to know that we were a part of helping change someone's life. I'll be honest though - many tears are shed on turn-in day. But I'm always surprised by how quickly the pain recedes when Paws gives us updates on each puppy. It's so fun to see their progression. And it helps to raise another puppy! Our second puppy, Calvin, is a service dog in Michigan and we are anxiously waiting to hear any day that he's been certified. Our third puppy, Poncho, is in Phase 3 and is being trained as a seizure response dog. Our current puppy, Turbo, is 7 months old and only time will tell if he passes. He's been our most challenging puppy yet, but he's happy, smart, and I know he'll end up exactly where he's meant to be.
If you have any interest in raising a Paws with a Cause puppy or have more questions I would love to talk to you! You can stop by Schmitt's, call, email, or visit www.pawswithacause.org.
Get in touch
4268 Three Mile NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49534
Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 8:30 am to 6:00 pm
Tuesday, Thursday: 8:30 am to 8:00 pm
Saturday: 8:30 am to 12:00 pm
After hour emergency services are available to clients of record until 10:00 pm. Our main line will direct to the doctor on call.