Projects with PawsMay 23, 2022 11:52AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Text by Richard L. Gaw
Georgia, a yellow Labrador puppy and for the moment a resident of Newark, has already in her 12-week life hung out at Harrington Beach on the campus of the University of Delaware, pranced along Main Street, explored the James Hall Trail near the Newark train station and visited the UD Creamery.
Georgia – and her constant companions Karen Kral and John Sherman – are volunteer puppy raisers for Canine Partners for Life (CPL), a national organization headquartered in nearby Cochranville, Pa. that provides training for dogs who become full-time service or companion dogs for individuals with physical or cognitive challenges all over the country.
Georgia is the tenth puppy that Karen and John have helped provide early training for. In their decade-long partnership with CPL, they have also worked with Digger, Banditt, Samba, Cheeky, Bela, Rebi, Kathi, Blue and Dawk, many of whom received formal training and were then connected to their owners.
While Karen and John will only share their “puppy home” with Georgia for about four months, the time they spend with her is crucial to her development and future role as a service or companion dog. They are responsible for raising the puppy in accordance with all CPL policies and procedures, including housebreaking, crate training, vet visits, reinforcing good manners, teaching basic obedience commands and socializing the puppy in public locations every day.
“The puppies need to be well-trained, because they will eventually be living with their recipient all the time, and they need to be able to focus and help that person,” Karen said.
“When we are taking one of our puppies on a walk and mention our role at Canine Partners for Life to friends and passers-by, the one thing I most often hear is, “I could never give up a puppy like this,’” John said. “My usual response to them is, ‘Well, you have to remember that this is not a pet. This is a project.’ We’re following a one-inch thick training manual and we have to maintain strict adherence to it.”
Tonya DiPilla, CPL’s associate director of development and communications, said that volunteers like Karen and John are responsible for the first rung of training that eventually connects companion and service dogs to their eventual owners.
“All of our dogs go through two full years of training before they become a service or a companion dog, and every single puppy that goes through our program begins their training with people like Karen and John,” she said. “Without these volunteers, these partnerships would not be possible. We can’t continue to place service dogs without people like Karen and John, who are so selflessly giving up so much of their time to build that puppy’s very foundation.
“It’s a huge commitment, but it’s very rewarding at the same time, because they are a part of this huge partnership that changes somebody’s life.”
One of the biggest thrills John and Karen receive is when they attend graduation ceremonies for dogs that have gone through the entire CPL training program.
“The first one ceremony we went to, someone told us, ‘Don’t forget your tissues,’” Karen said. “The recipients begin to tell the audience what the dog has meant to them so far, and more importantly, what their life was like before their dogs came into their lives. They share stories of not being able to leave their home or not being able to walk upstairs, or having to rely on a friend or a family member.
“While every dog is in some way an emotional support for us, these dogs are that and so much more.”
“When we hear people say, ‘This dog has made my life worth living again,’ it tends to get very emotional for Karen and me,” John said. “We’re glad to be a part of this community.”
Canine Partners for Life is a worldwide organization that works with several volunteers in Delaware. To learn more about opportunities such as providing early training for puppies, visit www.k94life.org, or call 610-869-4902.