“We all need someone to lean on…” goes a classic hit by the Rolling Stones. Most people can say they have had this happen from time to time; for people with special needs this is true on a daily basis. Who better to help than man’s favorite four-legged friend, a dog!
There is an organization in Walpole called GOFI (Golden Opportunity for Independence) that raises quality golden retrievers for the sole purpose of becoming therapy and service dogs. Each puppy is carefully matched with a recipient based on the puppy’s temperament and the recipient’s needs. Training begins very early on and continues for approximately two years depending again on the recipient’s needs. The families receiving the dogs are actively involved with the dog during training in order to form that special bond and to learn about the training process. The dogs are all taken care of by fosters during the training phase and when the dogs are ready for work, they are turned over to the recipient families.
I became aware of the organization when a patient and I were discussing my youngest daughter’s interest in raising and training a puppy to be a service dog as her senior project, a requirement for graduation in her high school. She suggested my daughter contact GOFI and we were delighted to find out they were looking for puppy raisers / trainers. My daughter, Margaux, started volunteering and going through training sessions right away.
This past January, our new foster “son”, Rocky, joined the family. Margaux has already taught him numerous tricks and commands. Every morning before school, my daughter drives Rocky to his training sessions at GOFI. After school she picks him up and reinforces all the things he has learned. On Wednesday evenings he spends some time with the family he will ultimately be going to and on Fridays he spends the whole day at school with Margaux.
Service dogs are trained to understand that they are working when they are wearing their vest. For this reason, it’s important for people to respect this and avoid approaching the dog while they work. It’s always best to ask the owner if it is okay to give the dog attention before doing so. These dogs are trained to perform tasks for individuals with limited mobility, such as opening doors and retrieving objects. They can sense when a person’s blood sugar is dropping in the case of a diabetic individual. Service dogs are also capable of sensing when a person is about to have a seizure. They are helpful for individuals with visual or hearing impairment. Therapy dogs offer emotional support for individuals suffering from disorders such as PTSD, depression, and other psychiatric issues. There is nothing like the unconditional love of a dog!
The estimated cost to raise and train a service dog is between $15,000- $50,000. This is an exorbitant amount of money for a family already absorbing the cost of a family member with special needs. Having puppy raisers to foster the puppies and volunteer trainers helps to lower the costs for organizations like GOFI. Fundraising efforts are never ending. If you would like to consider being a puppy raiser / foster or to make a donation to help them with their efforts, please contact GOFI for more information: www.gofidog.org Besides all the obvious benefits like puppy kisses, silly antics, and wagging tails, there is no greater reward than providing help where help is needed.
By Stephanie D’Aprile, D.M.D.