On Thursday, February 20th, the Mastic Fire Department invited a group of 4-legged furry friends to their firehouse for a unique training session.
2nd Lieutenant, Joe Carroll, explained, “One of our guys was a puppy walker and the Guide Dog Foundation was looking for places to go with different scenarios. Here, we have shiny floors, carpeted areas, open and closed stairways, tight areas and noise. They train here once or twice a year for the past five years.”
Detailed training included walking the pups up and down the stairs with their foster parent, a trip in the elevator and walking around the fire trucks. The dogs were also introduced to a firefighter in full gear in the event there was a scenario where firefighters needed to respond to the house, the dog would not be frightened by a masked firefighter with gear.
Mastic volunteer fireman, Rob Rodecker, put on the firefighter suit, kneeled on the floor and extended his hand to the dogs. Some walked right over to him, while some were a bit hesitant.
All of the dogs being trained are owned by the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind and America’s VetDogs Program located in Smithtown. All that attended this training event are volunteers and they foster these pups for the first year of their lives.
“They attend classes like these to get the dogs socialized and give them basic obedience training,” said Doug Butler, Puppy Advisor for the Guide Dog Foundation. “This group meets twice a month. The primary mission of the Guide Dog Foundation and the America’s VetDogs is to provide guide dogs and service dogs free of charge to anybody who needs them. The Vet Dog program serves primarily veterans from any era. We custom train the dogs to whatever their needs are. We have a lot of amputees coming back from the recent wars with traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress. Our dogs are trained to handle all of that and assist them in any way that they can.”
“The students come to the campus in Smithtown, all expenses paid,” said Mr. Butler. “They are boarded on campus for a couple of weeks. We have a chef there who keeps them well fed. There are two students to a trainer while they are in class for a couple of weeks and then we have a graduation ceremony and off they go with their pup. We provide follow-up training and follow-up care as well.”
Some volunteers at this training session are new, some have been doing this for over twenty years. “The only expenses that foster families incur over the course of the year are for food and toys,” said Mr. Butler. “The Guide Dog Foundation pays for all veterinary expenses.”
St. James resident Amy Tiu said, “I’m a teacher at Kings Park High School and one of the teacher’s that I work with is sight impaired and in need of a guide dog so that peaked my interest. The district was kind enough to let me puppy walk. Today, I have Frankie but he is in puppy camp. My dog that I’ve been raising is at somebody else’s house for the week. This is my seventh dog, I’ve been doing this since 2006. Having an experience like this at the firehouse is just really interesting. The dogs get to see a lot of different sights and it’s a great experience for them. We exchange dogs for a couple of weeks when they are still young to see if they have any attachment issues. It’s called Puppy Camp. You go into this hoping that the dogs make it to graduation. Having a few dogs make it, there’s nothing like it. I don’t have kids myself but I can imagine it’s like watching a child graduate from kindergarten or one of those monumental experiences. You put so much into it and you know that you’re raising the dog for someone that needs the dog more than you do. I think that’s why a lot of us do it – they’re going to be someone’s eyes one day – you see a dog make it and it’s a sense of fulfillment.”
During the summer, the Mastic Fire Department visits the Guide Dog Foundation and cook hots dogs and hamburgers and create a fun day for all of the volunteers.
To view more photos of this event, visit us on Facebook.