An Assistance Dog's Journey
Rescue and Puppyhood
NEADS dogs are acquired from animal shelters and rescue organizations, and are donated or sold to us as puppies by reputable breeders. Donated and purchased puppies arrive at NEADS at about eight weeks of age. Our puppies are named through our Name A Puppy program. Each puppy spends the next eight weeks on the NEADS campus at the Laura J. Niles Early Learning Center. This is an essential time during the dog’s learning process. Dogs that are rescued from animal shelters or rescue organizations for our hearing dog program typically go directly into more advanced training in the NEADS training center.
Prison PUP Partnership
At about four months old, 90-95% of our puppies enter the Prison PUP Partnership in which they are raised by prison inmates at one of 10 New England prisons. (A very small percentage of our puppies are raised by highly dedicated volunteer full-time puppy raisers outside of the prison system.) Prison inmates are selectively screened to become puppy trainers, and a NEADS staff trainer visits each participating prison on a regular basis. For the next 12 to 18 months, puppies learn around 50 tasks and skills that they will later perfect on the NEADS campus during advanced training: these include fetching, carrying, pulling, and many others. Puppies are further socialized outside of the prisons on weekends by volunteer weekend puppy raisers. These committed volunteers open their homes to puppies on weekends to work on house manners, socialization, and supplemental training.
When a dog is ready to take the next step in training, he or she returns to the NEADS campus for advanced training. During the next two weeks to three months, the dog will work with a staff trainer to perfect the skills he or she already knows and learn tasks that are particular to the person he or she will be matched with.
Making a Match
Meanwhile, during this time (and during the dog’s last few months in the prison program) our experienced trainers and client coordinator work together to match the right dog with the right client. During this complicated process, staff members compare each client’s disability, task needs, personality and lifestyle to the roster of available dogs to determine whether there is a match. Once the match is made with a dog, the client travels to the NEADS campus and spends 10-14 days living on campus. This is an emotional time for the client, who will now meet the new assistance dog that will change his or her life. Our trainers work closely with the new partners to ensure that the match is a strong one. They teach the client and the dog how to work together.
Twice a year, NEADS celebrates the graduation of each assistance dog team. At these festive, emotional events, clients get to share their story and meet the puppy namers, puppy raisers, staff and trainers that made their new partnership possible. These extraordinary celebrations are open to the public and represent the culmination of the hard work, dedication and passion that make NEADS possible.