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Guest blog post by Vanessa Sobotta, volunteer puppy sitter

My history of volunteering with Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD) began about 5 years ago. I had watched a friend of mine, Jane Jackson, raise SSD Topaz from a puppy, and was very intrigued by the process. Our family Golden Retriever had passed a few years prior, and my kids were begging for another dog. While our schedule wasn’t necessarily conducive to adding another pet to the family, I knew SSD had several programs that my family could partake in. Among these was puppy hugging.



The first litter we puppy hugged was the Czech litter. From the moment we sat in the pen with puppies practically rolling over us, the entire family became hooked. Any puppy is a bundle of joy—multiple puppies, however, is pure heaven.

I was subsequently introduced to their puppy sitting program. As I began to learn more about it, I felt sure that it was something my family wanted to do. I registered to be a puppy sitter, and anxiously awaited our home visit to be cleared. In the meantime, I attended the necessary classes. These classes taught the basics of puppy handling (it’s not as easy as it looks) and clicker training, a necessary part of the puppy’s training process. Once the home visit was completed and we were cleared for the program, my family and I were ready to go.


Over the past 5 years, we have been lucky enough to have a dog stay with us over the Christmas holiday. Our first, SSD Meade, was so much fun. He really got us hooked on the program. Every time we welcome a pup into our home I am in awe of the amount of love and work the puppy raisers give to their dogs. When the dogs are staying with our family, we try to take them on typical outings to help increase their comfort level with a new daily routine. Examples of these outings include kids sporting events, grocery shopping, or to work with me. Depending on the dog, they sleep in either my son or daughter’s room.  





The most surprising part of working with so many dogs is how different each of their personalities are. Some love to cuddle, while some prefer to keep to themselves. Some are goofy and playful, while others are very eager to work. If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that no two dogs are ever the same.  



We have been lucky enough to watch over 30 SSD dogs in training, some of them more than once. It’s always wonderful to hear when they move up from their raisers into advanced training, or where they have been placed, whether it be with the CIA or with their partners.  

While our family has not decided to become full time puppy raisers, we love meeting the numerous dogs and volunteers that make SSD the outstanding program that it is.

If you’d like to join Susquehanna Service Dogs as a puppy sitter or puppy raiser, you can apply online.
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Guest blog post by Meredith Heilner, volunteer with Susquehanna Service Dogs

You’ve heard of babysitting. But have you ever heard of puppy sitting? I never did, either, until a co-worker introduced me to Susquehanna Service Dogs. He told me that his family had just visited a place where they were able to hug puppies for an organization which trains and raises service dogs. My co-worker thought that this would be a good way for me to get my “puppy fix,” since I wasn’t ready to get another dog at that time. When he told me about puppy hugging, I said “Wow!” I didn’t know that an opportunity like this was available and I immediately checked Susquehanna Service Dogs’ website to find out where and when I could sign up to do puppy hugging.

I quickly found many more volunteer opportunities available to help this wonderful service dog program. After my first adventure in puppy hugging, I was hooked and knew I wanted to become more involved with Susquehanna Service Dogs.  


I wasn’t ready to raise a puppy just yet, so I decided to volunteer as a puppy sitter. This turned out to be an excellent decision, as it is the best of all worlds for me. Having the ability to sit many different dogs fits my schedule very well right now. It is wonderful to see their distinctive personalities and watch their skills develop as they grow.

As a sitter, I am able to attend puppy sitting classes, as well as take the dogs to their training classes and learn how to train them, using the positive reinforcement clicker technique employed by Susquehanna Service Dogs. This gives me a chance to practice my training skills, as well. Sitters may also participate in all other volunteer opportunities available, such as demonstrations, the two by two program where volunteers puppy sit two 8-week-old puppies overnight, and others.  There is also plenty of time for play. 



My first puppy to sit was SSD Slider (now discharged) and he was the perfect introduction to puppy sitting for me. This sweet boy has a delightful personality and will always hold a special place in my heart, since he was my first official assignment. Slider ultimately chose another career as a beloved family pet, but luckily I still get to visit with him on a regular basis


I have been fortunate to work with many wonderful pups who have become great service dogs, providing independence and assistance to those in need. Part of the education process in the world of service dogs is understanding that each dog ultimately chooses his own career. While some may not become service dogs, they may be suitable for other jobs, such as working in law enforcement or the CIA. They also may be happiest as a family pet. And that’s perfectly okay, too. 


I can’t imagine not being a volunteer with Susquehanna Service Dogs. The capabilities of these dogs to give people independence they may not have had otherwise is nothing short of awe-inspiring. After witnessing this for myself, I knew I wanted to become a part of it. To be able to contribute in some small way to the development of these amazing puppies is very gratifying.


If you have a love of dogs and are willing to devote some time and effort into learning how training, love, and patience can benefit those in need, I would strongly recommend that you check into puppy sitting and the other volunteer opportunities with Susquehanna Service Dogs. 


If you would like to become a puppy sitter or puppy raiser for Susquehanna Service Dogs, apply online today!
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There’s a big day coming up in just over one month! On November 28, we’re participating in #GivingTuesday.

If you’ve never heard of #GivingTuesday, it’s one big day of giving on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. It’s a great opportunity to give back to the community! This year, we’re hoping to raise $7,500 to fund the perfect match between a person and their service dog.

With your help, we know we can reach that goal!

A perfectly matched service dog team works together seamlessly. The person and their service dog form a strong bond.

We put a lot of work into creating that perfect match. We want to make sure the dog fits into the person’s life and meets their needs. For example, if someone leads an active lifestyle, we want to make sure their service dog will be active and comfortable with continually changing environments.

We also look at the type of work a person needs to the dog to do so we can match them with a dog that enjoys those tasks. When a dog enjoys their work and their partner knows they enjoy it, the team can really bond and be successful.

You can read more about our matching process here.

Why is it so important to donate to Susquehanna Service Dogs this #GivingTuesday?

The perfect match can change a person’s life!

We’ve seen over and over how a service dog opens the door to opportunity. Someone who may have had to depend on other people can now enjoy their independence because they can rely on their service dog.

Nate and SSD Colorado have been a team for over a year, and not only does Colorado help Nate to be more self-sufficient, but he gives Nate’s mother peace of mind.

“As a mother, I’m now more comfortable leaving Nate home alone,” she says. “When Nate is invited out with friends, I don’t hesitate to let him go because he now has Colorado to rely on.”

We hope you’ll join us this #GivingTuesday and help us fund the perfect match to change lives!

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