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A Doggone Good Deed

Byron Nelson High School Service Dog program

By Cindy Chapman, an interview with Galena Morrin

Photos courtesy of Grace Klawetter and Jenna Jackson, students from Byron Nelson High School

A service dog is a vital companion to assist those in need. When highly trained, service dogs can aid in performing daily tasks, provide life-saving alerts, reduce anxiety or fear, and of course provide unconditional love.

Byron Nelson High School’s FFA program includes the opportunity for students to become a puppy raiser for the non-profit Canine Companions. Puppies are placed in the care of students for the purpose of providing a solid foundation as they transition into their careers as service dogs.

We sat down with NISD Service Dog Teacher Galena Morrin to learn more about this incredible program.

High school students interested in becoming a Canine Companion Puppy Raiser will need to be enrolled in an Agriculture Science class as well as join FFA at BNHS. After the completion of the application and home visit, accepted students will then be placed on a waitlist for a Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever or a cross-breed puppy.

Once a puppy is placed, the student will raise the puppy in their home until it reaches approximately 18 months old. During that time the student and student’s family are responsible for:

  • Providing a safe and loving environment

  • Working closely with Canine Companions to monitor the puppy’s progress and submit monthly reports

  • Attending required meetings

  • Teaching the puppy manners and basic commands

  • Providing food and attending obedience classes

  • Providing age-appropriate socialization opportunities, such as public outings, and any veterinary costs

“Students are responsible for taking the puppy to school every day,” says Ms. Morrin. “Outings happen as a group with other ‘raisers’ within the program. It’s a big responsibility as the puppies go with the students everywhere.”

Once the puppies are old enough to enter into the professional training phase, they are placed at a regional training facility in Irving, Texas. Here they will undergo extensive training to learn tasks such as retrieving dropped items, opening and closing doors, pushing a wheelchair, and turning lights on and off.

Graduating dogs are then matched based on the dog’s ability and the recipient’s needs. Canine Companions provides dog training for the following types of assistance:

  • Service dogs

  • Hearing dogs

  • Skilled companions

  • Facility dogs

  • Service dogs for Veterans

Students who volunteer for the Puppy Raiser program find it challenging yet rewarding. While training takes a lot of time and energy, the fact that a service dog can provide independence, confidence and a better quality of life for those with physical or cognitive needs, is invaluable.

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