Local family raises future assistance dog
WEST ISLIP—Megan Noble and her family in West Islip recently began raising an assistance dog in-training for Canine Companions for Independence, a national nonprofit organization providing assistance dogs for children, adults and veterans with disabilities.
Puppy Tierra II is a Lab/golden retriever mix who will one day know over 40 advanced commands and be matched with a person with disabilities.
This is the first time Noble has worked with Canine Companions or raised a service dog. “Overall, I think it is going very well,” Noble said. “It is a lot of work raising a puppy, but raising a service dog is even more work and more training.”
Noble is a member of the Babylon Rotary Club, where a client of Canine Companions came to speak to her group. “I was so impressed with how the dog had changed his life and I thought I would like to get involved,” she said, adding that she’s wanted to do something like this for some time.
“My daughters will be going away to school next June,” Noble said. “So I didn’t want the long-term responsibility of a dog. But we do love having a dog in the family.”
Noble remembers picking Tierra up on Jan. 12, 2018. She explained that volunteers usually take in the puppy at 8 weeks old, but since Tierra was coming from California, there was a delay due to the weather. As a result, Tierra was closer to 10 weeks old when she arrived in West Islip.
“The first couple of weeks were very hard because it was so cold outside this past winter,” Noble said, adding that she spent a lot of time outside with Tierra, training her to become housebroken.
Noble said the first couple of months were an adjustment for everyone. “It had been 25 years since I had raised a puppy and I had forgotten how exhausting it can be,” Noble said. “However, Tierra is a quick learner and a beautiful dog. We are all very attached to her. [Tierra] is a very loving and playful dog with a lot of personality. She is also incredibly empathetic and can easily tell when someone is upset.”
Tierra also has great temperament and adjusts easily. “She comes with me to work most days and lies under my desk while I work,” Noble said. “[She] loves when people come into the office so she can say ‘hello’ to them.”
Noble says Tierra has training at Canine Companions in Medford every other week. The training helps to teach the dog things like waiting when you open the door, staying by your side when you go up the stairs and being comfortable in a crowd.
Noble’s daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Caroline, 17, come to the training classes as often as they can. “I love Tierra and I want to see her succeed,” Elizabeth said.
“I also try to work with [Tierra] a little bit every day to reinforce good behavior,” Megan Noble said.
Debra Dougherty, executive director of the northeast region of Canine Companions, said volunteers like Noble are “critical” to the organization, which requires potential puppy raisers to fill out an extensive application before taking in a future service dog.
Noble and other volunteers also must fill out a three-page monthly report to let the organization know what skills the dog has learned, and inform them about any issues the dog and the trainer might be having.
When the animal is 16 to 18 months old, they leave the volunteer for advanced training at Canine Companions, where the dog learns to open doors and cabinets and retrieve things as needed. The animal is then evaluated to see which recipient would be the best fit for them.
Dougherty, an East Islip resident, says it costs about $50,000 in the life of a service dog—from training until retirement. She also said volunteers often have a hard time giving up the dog after their training is complete. “But they know they’re doing it for a larger purpose,” she added. “They know it will impact someone for the better.”
Tierra will be moving on from the Noble household sometime next spring. “I love having Tierra and I wish she could keep her, but it’s great that she will be able to help people,” Elizabeth said. Her mother is having a hard time with that realization, too.
“However, knowing that she will be changing someone’s life who really needs her will make it a little easier,” Megan Noble said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of tears, but I’m hoping some of them will be happy tears. I am also hopeful that [Tierra’s] new family will keep in touch with us and let us know how she is doing.”
Canine Companions for Independence is the largest nonprofit provider of assistance dogs with six regional training centers across the country.
Established in 1975, Canine Companions provides highly trained assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities and is recognized worldwide for the excellence of its dogs, and the quality and longevity of the matches it makes between dogs and people.
For more information, visit cci.org or call 1-800-572-BARK.
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