In this annual season of pausing to reflect on gratitude and give thanks, four people with disabilities around the Midwest are grateful this Thanksgiving for the lives enriched by a special volunteerism from a west Kenosha County couple.
Since 2010, “dog-centric” Twin Lakes residents Catherine and Scott Rupp, retired certified public accountants with tax backgrounds, have been volunteer Midwest regional puppy raisers for Canine Companions, a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based nonprofit that provides free assignments. service dogs trained to help people with disabilities live their lives to the fullest.
“We like having pups around,” said Scott, praising Canine Companions’ “life-changing” advocacy work. “People are outstanding people. They are aimed at providing a solution for people with disabilities.”
Rupps, an Illinois native, retired to Twin Lakes in 2019.
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Scott said the organization is fully self-breeding, with a staff of 300 breeders nationwide who produce “super calm, super cool” dogs that meet Canine Companions’ requirements for service and facility dogs.
Among 1,000 Canine Companion puppies nationwide, Rupps said goodbye to her eighth Canine Companion puppy, 15-month-old Oshie, who is currently in professional training in Ohio, earlier this month, and also welcomed her ninth Canine Companion puppy, Tundra V, from California. In February 2024, they will hand over for professional training in Ohio – bred eight-week-old puppies.
After successfully completing professional training, Oshie is on track to be placed on a Service Team in May as a service or facility dog in Canine Companion’s 14-state North Central Region, which includes Wisconsin and Illinois.
“My husband and I have been volunteer puppy raisers since 2010,” says Catherine. “We are very impressed with the mission and organization. Dolls come to us at eight weeks of age and stay with us until they are about 18 months old. We are responsible for the training and socialization of the puppies. We are responsible for the financial costs of food, veterinary fees and formal training of puppies. We are required to take them to formal puppy and obedience training the entire time we have them. We teach puppies 30 commands and they will know 45-50 by the end of the training. One of the fun things we do as puppy raisers is meet new people when we take our puppies out in public and tell them about our puppy and Canine Companions. Everyone we met was excited to interact with us and meet all of our pups.”
Oshie, a Lab/Golden mix, was a frequent companion with Rupps on trips to Walmart and Catherine at Lake Geneva Women’s Club meetings from March to October, giving Oshie a going-away party.
The Rupps also made nearly 40 Canine Companion presentations with Oshi at various venues, including appearances at the weekly Lake Geneva Farmers Market and numerous presentations to service groups, clubs and organizations in Sheboygan, Pewaukee and New Glarus.
“Oshie came to us when he was eight weeks old and now we are handing him over to professional staff to continue his training,” said Catherine. “We’re excited to see where she goes… She has a great personality… I hope next spring she settles down with someone and continues her life in service helping that person.”
Four of the seven cubs bred by Rupps before Oshie were commissioned.
Rufus was placed in Eau Claire to serve a client with muscular dystrophy. Marlow was assigned to a client from Michigan with cerebral palsy. Johnny is with a Vietnam veteran in Des Plaines, Ill. Flanagan, meanwhile, was stationed in Columbus, Ohio, with an engineer at Honda’s Marysville, Ohio, automobile manufacturing plant, with a paraplegic who had Flanagan’s own Honda license plate.
Three of the dogs bred by the Rupps did not meet Canine Companions’ strict standards and were medically discharged from the program, Greta due to fear issues and Finch due to hip dysplasia.
For an independent spirit, he found a forever home with Gonzo Rupps, a nine-year-old Lab/Gold cross who was released from the Canine Companions program and today joins a home that includes Tundra V puppies in training, 2-1/2-year-old Aussie Shepherd Sheldon and 18-year-old Katrina hurricane rescues the Bayou cat.
“Unusual things are deal breakers,” Scott said as he introduced the behavioral issues that got Greta and Gonzo out of the program.
If a puppy is released from the Canine Companions program, its breeder has the first teeth to take the dog back. If the breeder does not take the puppy, it is placed in a pre-assigned home of a volunteer, donor or someone else associated with the organization.
Leading the service dog industry with the support of more than 4,700 volunteers, Canine Companions dogs are located in all 50 states. Active duty Canine Companion service and enterprise dogs make approximately 5.2 million interactions each year.
Founded in 1975 and today the nation’s oldest and largest provider of service dogs, Canine Companions empowers children, adults and veterans with disabilities to live more independently through a partnership with expertly trained service dogs and lifelong companionship services.
Canine Companion adult service dogs work an average of 8-10 years, retired and released dogs enjoy leisure time with retired caretakers.
Over its 47-year history, more than 7,000 service and facility dogs have been placed by Canine Companions, including more than 500 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fully 98% of Canine Companion dog placements are successful.
Adults with physical disabilities or deafness partner with trained service dogs to assist with daily tasks or to alert them to important sounds to increase their independence.
Working with the help of an adult facilitator, children with disabilities work together with service dogs to increase their independence and confidence.
Veterans with physical disabilities, hearing loss or post-traumatic stress disorder are matched with service dogs to achieve independence and peace of mind through special tasks.
Professionals working in healthcare, criminal justice, or school settings are paired with task-trained facility dogs to improve clinical outcomes.
Among the many volunteers who make the magic happen for Canine Companions and its customers is a corps of 1,000 breeders like the Rupps who love and care for specially bred Labrador, Golden Retriever and Lab/Golden puppies in the United States. Dog breeders provide careful socialization and real-life, formative experience to prepare dogs for their future as a working service dog. Puppy raisers must be over 18 years of age, although minors may work with an adult who will serve as the primary puppy raiser for the dog.
The 2-16 month period is an important developmental period for dogs, puppy raisers introduce puppies to different people, places and situations and oversee general obedience training. At 16 months, Canine Companions puppies return to the organization for professional training at one of five regional training centers in California, Texas, Ohio, Florida and New York, where the dogs learn specific tasks to assist people with disabilities.
Catherine said Canine Companions’ total investment in dogs is about $30,000. Dogs owned by Dog Companions are placed free of charge with lifetime support for Service Groups.
“Very useful experience”
Established in 1987, Canine Companions’ North Central Regional Training Center located in New Albany, Ohio serves 14 states including Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota shows. and parts of Pennsylvania west of Pittsburgh. The North Central Regional Training Center also serves graduate teams based in eastern Canada.
“Once the training phase is complete, we return the puppies to our regional center in Ohio, where professional staff take over, complete the training and place the dogs,” said Catherine, noting that the service dogs are placed with those over 60 years old. plus disabilities other than blindness, including hearing problems, autism and PTSD. “When our dog is matched, we are notified and invited to the official graduation ceremony on the last day of Team Training. On graduation day, we visit our puppy and meet his new family. During the launch ceremony, each recipient is introduced to the audience and breeders present their puppies, now service dogs, to their new arrivals. As you can imagine it is a very, very emotional experience. On that day, all those who participated in the event shed many tears of joy.”
Volunteers are needed
Catherine said there are several ways people can get in touch with Canine Companions’ North Central Region, which covers Wisconsin and Illinois.
“We need people raising puppies,” he said, noting there are currently “a handful” in Wisconsin. “Breders may have their own pet dogs, cats, etc… Unfortunately, we are a very well-kept secret.”
More information is available at canine.org/get-involved.
“We need the help of our breeders to coordinate picking up our puppies at O’Hare airport, raising them for 1-2 days, or dropping them off to their breeder or private pilot to fly them. they give them to breeders outside of our area,” added Catherine. “We also need private pilots to transport puppies from this area to nearby Midwestern states. Since COVID, only two of the major airlines ship live animals, and they only ship to major airports. We have built a network of private pilots across the country and need more pilots to help our wider North Central Region.”
Catherine, who serves on Canine Companions’ North Central Region Outreach Committee and Great Lakes Volunteer Chapter Leadership Team, said help is needed in other areas to support Canine Companions’ mission.
“Since we are a non-profit organization, fundraising opportunities, corporate sponsorships and help raising awareness are always appreciated,” noted Canine Companions, an accredited member of Assistance Dogs International. “I encourage everyone to visit our website, canine.org, to read more about our fantastic mission and the wonderful people who have gained more independence in their lives after adopting one of our service dogs.
The petitioners asked
Canine Companions also seeks to place trained service dogs in Wisconsin.
“We are looking for people to apply to adopt our dogs,” said Catherine. “We currently have 35 active service teams in Wisconsin, and we would like to deploy more here.”
An online application is available at canine.org.
“Our dog buyers’ lives change in ways they never expected after adopting one of our dogs,” she said. “It is a privilege and very exciting for us to be a part of these changes.”
For more information, call 1-800-572-BARK, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit canine.org or canine.org/raise, or call the Midwest regional Canine Companions office at 614-699-5900 please call
Catherine also welcomes inquiries at 312-560-4600.