by michele sprague
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They're Foster Puppy Parents
If someone told Mary Anne Strong, resident branch manager at the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan Kelly office, she would raise a Doberman Pinscher and love it, she would have denied it.
"I was always afraid of them," she said.
That was almost a year ago. Today Mary Anne and husband Brian, a Kelly on-site supervisor in Livonia, Michigan, are foster puppy parents for Jerry, an affectionate Doberman. And she can't say enough nice things about him.
"He is totally, totally sweet and very, very affectionate," Mary Anne said, and rattled off a list of Jerry's attributes. She discovered the tough-looking Doberman with the floppy ears even enjoys cuddling!
Raising a PAWS® Puppy
Brian and Many Anne became Jerry's foster puppy parents through the PAWS WITH A CAUSE® foster parent program. PAWS' goal is to train hearing dogs for the hearing impaired, and service dogs for the physically challenged.
"Our role is to go through the normal breaking in—potty training, and making sure the dog gets shots and is healthy," Mary Anne said. "But our biggest job is to socialize him—take him out in public and expose him to as many different atmospheres as possible—from a grocery store to an airport to a festival."
Typically, foster puppies stay with their foster parents 12-15 months before returning to PAWS for specialized training. Once training is completed at the center, the dogs are placed in their recipients’ homes. Then field trainers work with recipients and their dogs from two to six months, or until they work as a team.
“Each dog’s training is strictly tailored to the needs of the recipient,” said Michael Sapp, Sr., executive vice president and chief operating officer of PAWS.
Hearing dogs learn to respond to a baby’s cry, sign language, a doorbell, smoke alarm and other things their recipients need. Service dogs are taught many things including retrieving, opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, and acting as a brace for their recipients.
But before dogs receive specialized training, they must develop confidence and learn discipline. That’s what the foster parents try to instill.
The Strongs attend one to two monthly classes with other foster parents and puppies, and the program’s trainers. They also attend many scheduled functions where the program’s trainers observe the dog's progress.
Brian plays a more active role in Jerry’s training than
“She’s a little more leery of being tough with Jerry,” Brian said. “Sometimes it takes a little convincing to get Jerry to do what you want. You can give him a good tug [on his choke chain], and he just kind of looks at you and laughs.”
Together, the Strongs provide Jerry with what he needs to be successful in his future care—love, discipline, training, exposure to a variety of people and experiences, and companionship.
Dogs, Dogs, Dogs
The Strongs have a busy schedule balancing work, Jerry AND their two golden retrievers.
“We’re big time dog lovers,” Mary Anne said. “We see puppies and go nuts.”
They didn’t waste time populating their house with dogs. Three weeks after purchasing their first house, they adopted their first golden retriever, and it didn’t take long for them to get their second dog—a needed companion for the first.
Later they wanted to get a third, smaller dog. Brian learned about PAWS, and they decided to become foster puppy parents.
“We have about 220 pounds of dogs and a small house,” Brian said. “When they get playing, you wish the house was 20-times its size because they cover a lot of ground real quick. It seems like a herd of dogs run from one end of the house to the other. They slide across the new, oak floor and rearrange furniture by bumping into it.”
The Strongs love all three dogs and are careful to give them equal attention. They take the dogs for walks simultaneously; pack them into the back of a truck to go to the park; and alternate taking each dog on excursions.
Time to Say Good-bye
Jerry won’t be part of the Strong’s family much longer. He’s ready to return to PAWS’ headquarters and training center in Byron Center, Michigan and be interviewed by a potential recipient.
“We were really touched when we saw how gentle Jerry was with his potential recipient,” Mary Anne said. “When we see the difference these dogs make in people’s lifes, we know we’re doing the right thing.”
Even so, it’s difficult for foster puppy parents to say good-bye. Mary Anne said she’ll probably cry, but Brian tries to keep things in perspective.
“I try to think of Jerry as somebody else’s dog,” Brian said.
The Strongs are cherishing their last days with Jerry and taking plenty of pictures for their family album. Also, they plan to continue being involved with PAWS and become foster puppy parents again.
More About PAWS
Since the inception of PAWS in 1979, more than 760 hearing and service dogs have been placed throughout the United States, said A.J. Springstead-Sapp, chief operating officer and president of PAWS. Ninety-five percent of them are still working, helping people with disabilities in their quest for independence.
Springstead-Sapp said 95 percent of the hearing dogs and 35 percent of the service dogs come from humane societies and shelters. The rest are donated by breeders, private owners and the PAWS’ limited breeding program.
“These dogs become the hands, arms, legs and ears for the physically challenged and hearing impaired. They make it possible for their recipients to have dignity and independence,” Springstead-Sapp said.
A recipient captured the essence of the organization’s goal when she received her dog, Sapp observed. Her eyes filled with tears and she said, “The dog will open the doors of life for me.”
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