My Facebook memories are full of puppy pictures. My real memories are full of ECAD dogs.
My husband roped me into working with ECAD. He wanted to volunteer, and I just went along. I remember feeling so intimidated by the rules being spelled out at the volunteer training. I felt the weight and gravity of the responsibility. I was acutely aware that my success or failure at being a “good volunteer” could mean the success or failure of these Service Dogs.
The first several weekends as home handlers, it was uncomfortable. We had raised dogs... well-behaved dogs... but these rules seemed like a whole lot more. We gently reminded each other, encouraged each other and eventually got the hang of it.
Now, years later, I see the necessity of ECAD’s way. The dogs we welcomed into our home and encouraged in their training are Facility Dogs, mamas to new litters, and Service Dogs.
One special pup we had was named Sonoma. As his nursery home, we got to know him well. A lab/dane mix, he was super smart, but not particularly cuddly. He excelled at learning EVERYTHING, but on a visit to campus, one of the trainers noticed his resistance to being held close.
She taught me how to hold him close until he relaxed, learning to be vulnerable in a safe space. And I did as I was told. Ha! It was uncomfortable and sometimes inconvenient, but I trusted that the trainer knew better than me. So while my husband taught him to high-five, Sonoma and I sat together teaching him to cuddle.
Years later, Sonoma has graduated and is a working Service Dog for Cassidy. He retrieves her medication, helps her with balance, and does all manner of tasks for her. But he also knows how to be physically close to her.
I’m Facebook friends with his person and know that she has bouts of illness that keep her in bed. I think back to his puppy days when I would sit cross-legged on the floor with him in my lap, calming my breathing and teaching him to relax into me. I see photos of Sonoma cuddled right in beside his person and I know that the volunteer hours, the drive back and forth to Torrington and learning a new way... ECAD’s way... was worth it.
Volunteer with Service Dogs:
If you are looking for an opportunity to be a service dog volunteer, you have come to the right place.
Current opportunities include the volunteer dog sitting weekend Home for the Weekend program, in which Service Dogs live in safe and loving volunteer homes over weekends or holidays. Volunteers are trained prior to working with the Service Dogs to ensure that their instruction remains consistent with what they are learning at ECAD.
We also have other opportunities to volunteer to handle dogs or help work with ECAD's Service Dogs. Our Volunteer page is the best place to check for upcoming opportunities. Just like Heather, you can make a lifelong difference.