Phoenix resident Sue Schmitz recently brought home an adorable Labrador/Golden Retriever cross puppy named Yuri IV. Although she has quickly fallen in love with the smart and playful bundle of fur, Sue’s intention is to give him away. If all goes well, Yuri will become an assistance dog for someone with a disability through Canine Companions for Independence. Canine Companions enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly-trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships.
As a volunteer puppy raiser, Sue provides lots of age-appropriate socialization opportunities, basic training and a loving home for the puppy for about 14 to 16 months. After his time with Sue, Yuri will train for an additional six months with professional instructors before getting matched with a person with a disability. At only three months old, Yuri is already working on basic commands: Sit, Down and Let’s Go.
“I work at American Airlines,” Sue explains. “I am so thankful that I’m allowed to bring Yuri to work.” In fact, Sue’s colleagues are delighted to have a puppy at their workplace. Sometimes, they have to restrain themselves from exciting him with a lot of attention. “Our joke is that it is taking longer to train the humans to interact appropriately with the puppy than to train Yuri!” Sue says.
By the time Yuri graduates as an assistance dog, he will be trained in about 40 commands designed to make everyday life easier for someone with a physical or developmental disability. He will open and close doors, retrieve dropped objects, activate light switches and more. Outside of practical tasks, Yuri will provide immeasurable emotional benefits to his human partner.
Canine Companions invests about $50,000 in each assistance dog. Thanks to generous supporters like Sue, the organization is able to provide the dogs, their training and ongoing follow-up services completely free of charge to clients.
Yuri is the fourth Canine Companions puppy that Sue has raised. The first puppy became a breeder dog for Canine Companions, the second graduated as a service dog and the third is in its final stage of training at Canine Companions’ center in Southern California.
“I have been volunteering for Canine Companions for eight years and I have never looked back,” Sue says. “I will be raising puppies for as long as possible. People ask, how do you do it? My answer is, how can’t I? Volunteers give so much to these puppies, but we receive even more. People are so grateful when they are matched with a Canine Companions dog.”
Coming up on April 2, Canine Companions supporters like Sue will gather for DogFest Walk ‘n Roll Phoenix. Join them for a dog walk, festival and lots of family and dog friendly fun.