‘Puppy Raiser’ program teaches teen and service dog

Sarah Mayhew is helping to train Dixie, a Patriot PAWS pup. Photo submitted by Kellie Mayhew.

ROCKWALL, TX (Dec. 16, 2014) When local sophomore Sarah Mayhew embarked upon a personal project to help her achieve her International Baccalaureate diploma at Westlake Academy, she never expected to find companionship in the form of a 10-month-old Labrador puppy in the process. But that’s exactly what took place when Sarah took on the role of a Puppy Raiser for Patriot PAWS Service Dogs in Rockwall, a 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to train and provide service dogs at no cost to disabled American veterans.

Sarah became inspired by the idea of raising a puppy from a coworker of her mother, Kellie Mayhew, who trains search and rescue dogs. Sarah said her mom suggested that she could play hide and seek with the dogs for community service hours. After conducting some online research, they came across Patriot PAWS and their Puppy Raiser program.

“We looked into the organization and found out we’d be helping veterans who have inadvertently helped me, so it seemed like a worthy cause while also being a fun and challenging project,” Sarah said.

Patriot PAWS and its Puppy Raisers Program gives participants the opportunity to donate their time, contributions and service in order to aid our country’s veterans by providing them with high-quality, well-trained service dogs. The experience requires a lot of dedicated time and energy from volunteers, but also teaches them responsibility and offers those who choose to raise a puppy the benefit of knowing that all of their hard work is going toward a good cause.

In the case of Sarah and her Patriot PAWS pup Dixie, the program also offers valuable companionship and lots of play time to boot.

“It’s definitely been an interesting experience,” Sarah said. “At first I was a bit confused but as the months passed and I learned more about the training,Dixieis becoming much better behaved. I take her to school with me almost every day and she seems to enjoy playing and working with me more and more.”

Dixie knew she was going to be a Patriot PAWS service dog since the time she was two months old. Photo submitted by Jill Gamble, Patriot PAWS.

The program has several requirements for those willing to volunteer, including exercising and training the puppy daily, teaching the puppy good house manners, socializing and keeping the puppy with you as much as possible, and attending training workshops several times a month.

According to Sarah, the training sessions teach hand signals and commands the dogs should learn, as well as demonstrations from other trained dogs to show exactly how these signals and commands work.

“I have definitely enjoyed all of the opportunities to meet other puppy raisers as well as a few veterans and learning more about this whole process,” Sarah said. “The most challenging part has probably been her ‘no petting’ weeks – when I can’t let people pet her – because some people don’t understand why they are not allowed to pet Dixie on certain days. I just try to explain to them that she is working and needs to pay attention to her handler rather than all the people around her. Some people take it better than others but I just have to ensure they understand my reasoning.”

Sarah will get from three months to one year with Dixie before she has to give her back up to Patriot PAWS; then Dixie will go through a series of other puppy raisers / trainers including women from the Lane Murray Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Crain Women’s Correctional Unit in Gatesville,TX. After about two years, Dixie will graduate in a ceremony and be placed with a disabled veteran.

As a Puppy Raiser volunteer, Sarah exercises and trains Dixie daily. They also attend training workshops several times a month.

While Sarah is fully aware that she will have to give up Dixie at the end of her project, she said the program has helped her become more patient and has taught her the power of positive reinforcement, two things she hopes to exude when she gets her own dog one day.

“Being a puppy raiser has taught me a lot about patience and positive reinforcement and I hope that after this project I can take those traits and apply them in other scenarios,” Sarah said. “I definitely want to remember some of the commands so that maybe I can teach them to a personal dog.”

To learn more about becoming a Puppy Raiser for Patriot PAWS and to download an application, visit patriotpaws.org/puppy-raisers.

By Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News staff writer and reporter.

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