Jonathan Young – April 28, 2017 (Stillwater Gazette) – Sit, stay … farewell: After two years, dog nearly ready to be a service animal.
Saying goodbye won’t be easy.
It won’t be easy, but Bonnie Bakke knew this day would come when she agreed to raise Zoe, a yellow Lab/Golden Retriever cross. That was nearly two years ago.
“I got her when she was eight weeks old, and her birthday is the 28th of April,” Bakke said.
Zoe was raised to be an assistance dog through Can Do Canines, an organization that trains and provides dogs to people with disabilities. With financial assistance from the Stillwater Lions Club, Bakke volunteered to be a Puppy Raiser.
“Our club was having a brainstorming session about what we can do to amp up our service,” Bakke said. “One of the focuses of Lions is diabetes — macular degeneration and diabetes. Someone in the club knew about Can Do Canines, and said they raise diabetic assist dogs.”
Dogs trained by the organization may also become other types of service dogs, such as hearing assist, mobility assist, seizure assist and autism assist dogs. Each animal is matched with a client based on its skill set and disposition.
As a puppy raiser, Bakke committed to providing Zoe’s food, equipment, and veterinary care. She also agreed to teach Zoe basic skills, take her to training classes twice a month and go out with Zoe out in public at least three times a week.
“The set of skills I work with her on is not barking, not jumping on people, not getting on furniture, potty training, being able to walk on a loose leash.”
The “loose-leash walks” were one of the most difficult skills to master.
“That is a really hard thing to do,” Bakke said. “They’re so distracted, and they’re smelling. They want to play. There’s a squirrel, there’s a rabbit, there’s other dogs. So that was a really big accomplishment to get her to take her walk on a loose leash.”
Bakke has brought Zoe into all kinds of public situations, as well, to socialize the dog get her used to various environments.
“She’s gone with me to my hairdresser, she’s gone to the gym with me,” Bakke said. “She’s been to the dentist with me. She goes to work with me.”
The trainings through Can Do Canines have also included trips to the airport, the Mall of America and more.
Sometimes businesses are reluctant to allow a dog inside, but Bakke has grown used to explaining Zoe is a service dog and that state law requires she be allowed in businesses.
Soon the time will come to put Zoe’s skills to the test.
She’ll go in for a final training with Can Do Canines and be matched with a client. Next, the organization will begin a six-month process of training Zoe to work with the client and perform specific skills to meet the client’s needs. Finally, there will be a graduation ceremony, and Zoe will become a full-time service dog.
Even though Bakke will miss Zoe, she said the idea that Zoe will help someone else is rewarding.
“People say to me all the time, isn’t it going to be hard?” Bakke said. “And yes, I’ll miss her. She’s great company. But I’m going to be so proud of her. … It’s kind of like raising a child, and you launch them off and they do good things in the world.”
She encourages others to consider volunteering as Puppy Raisers as well, or volunteering to provide short-term foster care for the program.
“I believe that the only things we truly own are the things … we give away,” she said.