When Lydia De Mund of Fourth Avenue decided to raise a companion dog, she did not anticipate how much work it would be. Now, after nearly 15 months with Betty, she knows. So does her family. As it turned out, training a puppy to become a companion for a disabled person is a family affair.
Lydia, who turns 12 in June, is finishing up 6th grade at Leonardo da Vinci school. Her parents, Dann and Phoebe De Mund, and Young puppy trainer feels like she’s helping others sister, Lila, 10, had to learn all the commands for Betty and help keep her training consistent.
That training included weekly classes with other trainers and dogs and socializing. Among the 25 commands Betty had to learn are sit, stay, down, stand, back, bed and car.
As Betty matured, she visited school with Lydia and went to work with Mom and Dad.
Knowing about the dog and her work is good training for the other students, Dad, Dann, says. In spite of all the disciplined training, Lydia says the best part of raising Betty has been “feeling like you’re helping.”
Lydia was surprised how well behaved Betty is, but she’s learned that Betty was bred to be that way. She is a labrador retriever and golden retriever mix.
Lydia first met companion dogs when, at age 8, she played with the puppies at the home of puppy raiser Jan Thornburg. Thornburg says,
“The most important function of the puppy raiser is socialization, getting the puppy accustomed to anything and everything in the environment, so it will be essentially ‘bomb-proof’ when matched with a disabled person.”
Lydia and Thornburg are volunteers for Canine Companions for Independence, which provides, free of charge, highly trained assistance dogs to people in wheelchairs, deaf people, children with a variety of disabilities, and to persons in facilities such as special education classes, hospitals, physical therapy and occupational therapy departments, nursing homes etc. More information is available at CCI.org.
For Lydia, the hardest part about raising Betty will be giving her up. Lydia knows Betty will go on to intense training before she’s matched with a disabled person.
She has yet to decide whether she will raise another companion puppy. In the meantime, she and the family have another dog, a cat and fish.
By Viewpoint staff