This holiday season, lend a hand and watch a pup

Support Canine Companions as a foster home

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What better way to offer some volunteerism than to babysit an adorable puppy? But not just any puppy—an in-training Canine Companions Labrador retriever, golden retriever, or a cross of the two breeds.

Canine Companions, the Medford-based dog-training facility, pairs service dogs with individuals with physical or developmental disabilities, adults who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as professionals working in health care, visitation, educational or criminal justice settings, who can demonstrate that a service dog will enhance their independence or quality of life, free of charge.

Once trained, the highly skilled service dogs can retrieve dropped items, alert to important sounds in the environment, interrupt flashbacks, participate in therapies and more.

But, the job of preparing the pups to become full-fledged service dogs requires teamwork, including the help of temporary fosters, which the nonprofit is seeking for volunteer opportunities amid a shortage. Currently, they have about a dozen local fosters and hope to see that number, at least, double.

Ann Kaiser, one of the company’s foster volunteers, has been helping watch puppies for the last seven years or so, offering her East Patchogue home. On average, she watches one puppy a month, sometimes on a weekend and other times for a week or longer.

“It gives the dogs a break from the kennel in between trainings,” she said, humble about her ongoing efforts.

She and her husband are retired and used to be involved in dog sports as a hobby. After the death of her last dog, they decided they couldn’t get another dog due to traveling. However, they found a solution in helping Canine Companions.

“I felt I had something to give back to the community for all that I have received from it,” she said. “It’s certainly a very worthy cause, and I would say you do get some satisfaction out of it being able to contribute to these dogs’ future careers.”

According to program manager Ellen Torop, they are looking for people local to the Medford campus who are willing and able to house a dog in training anywhere between a couple of days to longer term, such as a week, when a trainer may be working on the road or taking a vacation.

After filling out an application, eligible fosters need to be able to follow the handling and management guidelines, which are reviewed in detail during an orientation. Foster dogs are never taken out into public by their fosters.

“The main goal is to give the dog experience outside of the kennel with new handlers and gives them a break from kennel life,” she said of the experience.

The experience, for the dog, can also provide valuable information to the trainers when the dogs are returned, including management level, interest in interacting, etc.

“Fosters don’t have to have dog-training experience, but need to be willing and able to follow our handling guidelines,” she said of the requirements.

Foster homes that don’t currently have a pet dog in the home are at a premium, but those with pet dogs may still be eligible. Also, fosters need to be able/willing to pick up and drop off dogs in Medford.

For more information about Canine Companions and the foster program, visit canine.org.