At Tulane University in the center of New Orleans, ten undergraduate students juggle classes in pre-med, bio-chemistry, homeland security, and more, with raising and training nine puppies.
Lindsay, Ava, Xiao, Nic, Josie, Ryan, Claudia, Sarah, Jessica, and Lexi are all puppy raisers for the New Orleans chapter of Canine Companions for Independence. The non-profit breeds, trains and places assistance dogs to enhance the lives of people with disabilities. The organization breeds Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and a cross of the two, and then sends them across the country to volunteers when they are 8 weeks old. Volunteers will spend the next 14-18 months raising them, teaching them basic obedience training, socialization and proper behaviors.
During the raising months, volunteers teach the dogs basic obedience and commands. Socialization and exposure to lots of experiences are paramount, and so these six-legged duos do everything together: they go to class, outdoor concerts, pilates, the library, restaurants and ice cream shops.
“There is a certain type of selflessness one learns from raising a dog, and from doing so for the potential benefit of others, along with the learning and education that comes with the process. I continue to find fulfillment and growth in it every day.It is easy to feel a sense of importance when an animal with such an incredible purpose is by your side.”
For many, college is a time to avoid responsibility: away from home and family, and living in a dorm with hundreds of their peers, undergraduate students are told to relish “the best years of your life.” Tulane University especially is famous for its partying (it was rated as the Nº1 “Party School” by the Princeton Review this year). But through Canine Companions, a handful of students not only care for another being, they also raise dogs knowing they’ll have to give them away. All come to the program with different stories and display an impressive mix of maturity, responsibility, and selflessness.
“I became a puppy raiser to play a part in changing someone’s life.”
Once they house-trained the puppies, the students were able to seamlessly integrate them in their routine. Indeed, when the puppies are "on-cape", that is, when they are working and wearing the yellow jacket that signals to them and to others that they are on duty(off-cape can look something like this) they can go everywhere with the students. On campus, only the science labs, gym, and dining hall are off limits due to safety considerations.
See below for a range of experiences a puppy and their raiser can experience throughout the day, from before the dogs are on-cape until they are off duty at night.
Puppy raisers cross paths throughout the day, and have formed a community of their own. They advise each other on training and caring for the dogs, they look after each other’s puppies when needed, and they have outings where the dogs get to play with each other. Coincidentally, three of the student puppy-raisers, Lindsay, Ava, and Sarah, are registered in the same nutrition class to which they all bring the dog they’re responsible for.
What makes this so rewarding is the culmination of small victories. Whether it be finally nailing a difficult command or having his laser focus on me as another dog passes by, it just makes me proud knowing that all of these little events are setting him on the path to change someone’s life.“
II. COMMUNITY & SOCIALIZATION
I became a puppy raiser so that I could help increase someone's happiness from such incredible dogs like they do for me.
The students and their puppy pupils illuminate Tulane University’s campus and the city of New Orleans. Whenever they come out, children and adults stop in their tracks and take on their best doggie voices to say hi.
As the founder of the New Orleans Crescent City group of Canine Companions, Lindsay Scheer told me, they aren’t just raising assistance dogs, they are also educating the local population on how to interact with assistance animals. So, the students of Tulane learn to ask before petting, and they learn that when the puppies are on-duty it may not not be appropriate to pet and play with them.
Still, the puppies spread the joy everywhere they go.
My favorite part about raising is making people’s days when they ask to pet Rey. I plan to raise again throughout my own career and one day retire to California to become a Breeder Caretaker.
Lindsay started co-raising puppies for Canine Companions when she was fifteen years old. She was inspired to raise after a near-fatal equestrian accident landed her in a wheelchair for almost nine months. That summer she left physical therapy one day, and drove to the airport with her mom to pick up their first puppy from Canine Companions and co-raise him together (minors cannot raise puppies by themselves but have to sign on with a co-raiser)
Now, Lindsay is onto raising her fifth puppy, Atkins, and on her own this time. By raising an assistance dog, she wants to change someone’s life and give them the gift of independence.
I love seeing things “click” in Colin’s mind - whether it’s the first time he correctly associates a command with an action, or when he realizes that if he’s patient he gets a big reward, his eyes light up and just the tip of his tail starts to wag for a split second before he refocuses and is ready to learn the next new thing.
When Ryan picked up 8-week-old Austin, he thought the puppy would already respond to his own name. But the raisers have to teach the dogs everything, starting with knowing when they’re called and house-training. The name precedes each command: “Austin, sit.” “Austin, side.” “Austin, shake.” With the help of kibble, the students guide the dogs into position and then reward them when they execute the commands successfully. As such, the kibble pouch is of major necessity as the raisers go about they day, and they all have one affixed to their hip. Ultimately, the puppies are weaned off the kibble so they are able to respond to commands on their own without exterior incentives.
My favorite part about being a raiser is seeing how Austin crushes each new thing I test him with and the immense joy I get when he makes me proud as a result.
My favorite part about being a raiser are all of the times where I can tell that Penzey, a being who doesn’t speak the same language I do, understands what I am saying and can put that into action.
All are of different ages and so at different stages of their training. Below is a slideshow of a few of the commands they are able to execute.
In May, Rey, Penzey, and Dorne will be completing the first phase of puppy training at Tulane University. Lindsay Scheer refers to the next step as “puppy college.” Puppy raisers Claudia, Xiao, Ava, and Lexi, will make their way to the regional headquarters in Orlando, Florida, to hand over the dogs to professional Canine Companions instructors. Afterwards, they will return home with the empty leash, a journey Ava and Xiao are preparing themselves for with a tinge of sadness.
Over the next six to nine months, the dogs learn to master over 40 commands. The dogs then go through Team Training and have the possibility to be matched with adults, children, or veterans with a disability, as well as professionals who assist clients with special needs. If they cannot find a right match, or if they cannot complete the training, the exceptionally-trained dogs will be adopted (the volunteers who raised them are given “first dibs.”). Otherwise, the dogs are trained to be one of four assistance dogs, based on their strengths and natural talents:
- Service dogs assist adults with physical disabilities by performing daily tasks.
- Hearing dogs alert their partners, who are deaf and hard of hearing, to important sounds
- Facility dogs work with clients with special needs in a visitation, education, criminal justice or health care setting.
- Skilled companions enhance independence for children and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities.
At the end of team training, there is a graduation ceremony, attended by those receiving the service dogs as well as the puppy
raisers. It is a chance for the raisers to see the result of their hard work and to pass the leash to the adult, child or professional who will own the dog from now on. They see the life made better by a dog they raised.
And then, maybe, they do it all over again.
Meet the raisers and the puppies
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CANINE COMPANIONS FOR INDEPENDENCE, TO DONATE OR TO BECOME A PUPPY RAISER, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE: WWW.CCI.ORG .
Photographs, videos and texts by Marianne Barthélemy
These photographs were made for Momenta Non-Profit Photography Workshop New Orleans 2018.
I’d like to express awe and thanks to the puppy raisers who welcomed me and who work incredible hard: Lindsay, Ava, Xiao, Nic, Josie, Ryan, Claudia, Sarah, Jessica, and Lexi.