Humans of BluePath: Kaete Cason, Puppy Raiser

 Kaete, Andy and their pet dog, Kota, welcomed BluePath Nicholas into their home with open arms (and laps!). 

Kaete, Andy and their pet dog, Kota, welcomed BluePath Nicholas into their home with open arms (and laps!). 

How it All Began: I came across an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal talking about BluePath and the important role volunteers play in helping them achieve their mission. The article outlined the many volunteer positions available and, after doing some research of my own, I found that being a puppy raiser was the perfect match for me.

Favorite Part of Volunteering for BluePath: Working with BluePath has been such an incredible learning process for me. Before volunteering, I knew very little about autism. Soon after I signed on, one of BluePath’s board members generously shared with me her story as a parent of a child with autism. Until that point, I had no idea what autism meant for an individual or their family. It was a very eye-opening experience.

Favorite Part of Puppy Raising: It’s so much fun having another dog in the house, but I think the most rewarding part will come at the end once my puppy completes his training and gets matched with a family. While I’ve certainly enjoyed training Nicholas and going on our outings, I think even greater things are still to come!

Words of Wisdom for Prospective Puppy Raisers: Do it. For anyone who’s had a dog before: it’s definitely a more involved process, but the dogs that BluePath selects for training have great temperaments and that makes the job so much easier. You’re able to focus on training and having fun instead of spending time worrying. But yeah, just do it.

Fast Facts:

About Kaete:

  • Where She Lives: Hyde Park, NY
  • Dream Vacation Spot: Bora Bora
  • Favorite Way to Relax: Going on walks with Nicholas (the perfect way to end a ruff day!)

About Nicholas:

  • Newest Skill: Going to kennel
  • Nickname: Buddy Boy
  • Quirkiest Trait: Likes to lay behind low-hanging curtains (who doesn't love a good game of hide-and-seek?)
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Humans of BluePath: Saxon Eastman, Puppy Raiser

 Saxon and Ranger at Madison Square Garden.

Saxon and Ranger at Madison Square Garden.

How it All Began: It all started in college when my roommate decided she wanted to raise a puppy and I agreed to tag along to an orientation to see the cute dogs. The next thing I knew, I was signing up to be a puppy raiser! A graduate speaker at the orientation told a story about how a her service dog saved her life when she was about to walk into a busy street. I was so impressed by the dog’s capacity to play such a meaningful role in someone’s life. Less than a year later, I got my first puppy.

Favorite Part of Volunteering for BluePath: BluePath is such a wonderful organization to volunteer for! I would have to say that my favorite part is probably the awesome people. I’ve raised puppies with three different schools, but BluePath is the only one that truly feels like a family. At this year’s walkathon, so many people came out in the pouring rain to show their support for BluePath’s mission and to be with one another. I think that’s a testament to how strong the BluePath community really is.

Favorite Part of Puppy Raising: There are so many parts of puppy raising that I love, it is difficult to choose just one. I have never experienced anything as wonderful as a graduation day, when you see the dog that you raised with his or her graduate, making a difference and giving someone their independence; It’s the most incredible feeling in the world. I can’t compare it to anything else.

Advice for Prospective Puppy Raisers: Puppy raising is something you really want to think about before diving into. It takes a lot of time and energy. However, I can safely say that you give a lot as a puppy raiser, but get back so much more in return. So many amazing things have come from my decision to raise puppies. I have made so many wonderful friends, it changed the course of my career, gave me a way to give back to the community and has made me the person I am today.

Fast Facts:

About Saxon:

  • Where She Lives: New York City  
  • Dream Vacation Spot: Nashville or L.A.
  • Favorite Way to Relax: Cooking

About Ranger:

  • Nickname: Rangy (Rain-gee) or Meatball (since he was a really round, pudgy puppy!)
  • Favorite Hang Out Spot: Madison Square Garden
  • The Awesome Path Ahead: Ranger will be training with the New York Rangers to learn the skills he needs to become an autism service dog. He and the team will grow stronger together and make a lasting difference in the life of a child with autism. Go Blue!
 Ranger (aka Meatball)

Ranger (aka Meatball)

The Power of Paws

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Excerpt from East Fishkill Living Magazine

For 26 years, Caroline and Jody worked together at guide dog school. After Caroline’s first 18 there, she founded an autism service dog program that altogether has placed 90 dogs with families. “It was incredibly successful and changed my world,” says Caroline, so much so that she and Jody decided to create their own not-for-profit “to help even more families and children.” They started BluePath Service Dogs in 2016. “We opened our back door and autism was everywhere,” she says. “Giving back to children in need is super wonderful.”

More than 3.5 million Americans, one in every 59 children, has an autism spectrum disorder. Many children with autism have a propensity to “bolt” or wander from their families, posing a safety threat and making trips outside the home frightening for families. The comfort and companionship of a well-trained dog can not only help with sleeping, eating and social behaviors, but keep children “anchored.” With a specially designed tether system, BluePath’s service dogs stay connected to the child and respond to attempts to bolt with an emotionless reaction to stay in place.

When they reach 14-18 months old, Labradors begin training with a professional instructor. That’s when they also begin being fostered in the homes of volunteers. Three to four mornings a week, foster families drop off their dogs at the Sandler’s home in Hopewell Junction for training and pick them up late afternoon. These well-behaved and highly trained dogs remain with the foster family until their permanent placement in an autistic child’s home. “The dogs get public access under the Americans with Disabilities Act and help families do things they couldn’t before, like go to the supermarket, the mall or the movies,” Jody explains.

Beyond the practical benefits, families are better able to integrate in the community without the safety fears or embarrassment if their child acts up. “The child is now safe, and the dog makes it clear there’s a special need,” explains Caroline. An isolated child gains companionship and will even sleep better with the warmth of their furry friend nearby, on top of helping them become more responsible and self-sufficient, which builds confidence.

To prepare the dogs to behave in public places, Caroline takes them to the Dutchess Rail Trail every day and practices calm walking when bikers and runners go by. She also acclimates them to the sights and sounds of children by taking them to schools where allowed. Caroline has broken barriers in some districts that were reluctant. “The dogs come into the classroom and suddenly the administrators see the benefits of the interaction,” she says.

The Sandler's two sons, Connor and Evan, have been volunteering, walking or working with the dogs, since they were 6 and 8 years old. “When I was younger, I just liked being with the dogs,” says Connor. “As I've grown up, I see the effect on families. It’s something not just nice to do, but cool and fun.” He’s spent a lot of time teaching the puppies manners and obedience. Evan too has helped train them by playing the autistic child role, wearing the belt and tethers and practicing sudden moves and acting out.

View the full article here.

 Connor, Caroline, Jody and Evan take a stroll on the Rail Trail with BluePath Benni and pet dog, Kermit.

Connor, Caroline, Jody and Evan take a stroll on the Rail Trail with BluePath Benni and pet dog, Kermit.

Humans of BluePath: Emmaline Putnam, Puppy Raiser

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How it All Began: When I was about nine years old, I asked my parents if I could raise a service dog since some girls in my 4H club were raising service dogs, too. They told me that I could do it once I reached high school, probably thinking that I would forget about it by then, but I never forgot. I began raising my first puppy as soon as I entered my freshman year of high school. Now, as a psychology major in college and a repeat puppy raiser, I continue to be fascinated by the impact animals can have on people with special needs.

Favorite Part of Volunteering for BluePath: Raising for BluePath has connected me with so many people who I would never have met otherwise. I was able to meet people within the organization who have been extremely supportive throughout the whole process. I’ve also met a ton of people on campus who were curious about my puppy, which has led to a lot of really cool opportunities. For example, I get to visit a local elementary school with my puppy to host a weekly reading program.

Favorite Part of Puppy Raising: Raising a puppy forces you to go outside of your comfort zone and try things you may not otherwise do. I attend many more campus events and talk to a lot more of my fellow students than I probably would have if I didn't have my dog with me on campus. It’s also really fun to have a little troublemaker by your side to get you through the many stressors of college.

Words of Wisdom for Prospective Puppy Raisers: It's a challenging process, especially the first time you raise. It can be very emotional. But you get addicted. Giving the gift of a service dog is a life-changing experience. You build a strong connection with a dog and get to watch how that connection transfers to another person who will really benefit from the training you carry out. It’s the most incredible feeling ever.

Fast Facts:

About Emmaline:

  • Studies At: Iowa State University
  • Dream Vacation Spot: California
  • Favorite Way To Start The Morning: Listening to The Daily podcast by Michael Barbaro  

About Winston:

  • Newest Skill: Close command
  • Where To Find Him On Campus: At the library, practicing settling while Emmaline works
  • Quirkiest Trait: Tilting his head and grinning… also sleeping on his back all the time
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Humans of BluePath: Jeannie Fleming-Gifford, Puppy Raiser

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How it All Began: I love animals and I love the idea of helping raise an animal for a purpose. Puppy raising combines both of these interests while also allowing me to bring my family closer together and help people who would benefit from having a service dog. I’m hopeful that my volunteer work will inspire others to try raising a puppy, too.

Favorite Part of Volunteering for BluePath: As a parent, working with BluePath is great because it’s a volunteer opportunity the whole family can get involved with. It takes a village to raise a puppy, and my “village” consists of both the wonderful people at BluePath and the wonderful people within my own home. I love spending time with my daughter and husband as we raise a puppy for a cause we all believe in.

Favorite Part of Puppy Raising: Puppies are a lot of fun to have around and bring so much joy to wherever they go. I’ve been lucky enough to meet people whose lives have been changed after getting a service dog and it’s such an amazing feeling. It's also incredibly rewarding to see your dog progress from the early stages of puppyhood to being a really polished dog able to navigate crowds and stay focused in all kinds of situations.  

Words of Wisdom for Prospective Puppy Raisers: Raising a puppy is a learning process. I was really nervous that I would do something wrong when I first started but, as I went on, I became more patient with the process and with myself as well. It's a lot of hard work, but it’s so worthwhile. And when you consider what a dog can do for an individual’s sense of comfort and freedom, it’s a no brainer. Enjoy it.

Fast Facts:

About Jeannie:

  • Where She Lives: Willoughby, Ohio
  • Dream Vacation Spot: All U.S. national parks
  • Music Preferences: Artists who are good advocates for humanity (e.g., U2 and Brandi Carlile) and show-tunes

About Izzy:

  • Newest Skill: Navigating large crowds of people
  • Unique Talent: Handles all surfaces like a pro
  • Social Media Presence: Izzy is a social media star! Visit “Busy Izzy” on Facebook to follow Izzy’s day-to-day adventures and explore her adorable pictures! Click here to check out her page.
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Humans of BluePath: Aimee Muller, Puppy Raiser

 Aimee and Mary on a kayak.

Aimee and Mary on a kayak.

How it All Began: I’ve always been keen on the healing power of animals. When I learned about the hardships my friends met while raising children with autism, I realized that, even though I couldn't eradicate these difficulties, I could raise a puppy in hopes that people facing a similar struggle might one day benefit from a service dog’s skillset and companionship.

Favorite Part of Volunteering for BluePath: BluePath’s mission, what they wish to accomplish, their dedication to children, and the sense of camaraderie they build within their organization all make it so easy to be a motivated and excited volunteer. I love what BluePath stands for and I love the positive influence my position allows me to have on children with autism.  

Favorite Part of Puppy Raising: I’ve seen the impact one puppy can have on the life of another person. Knowing that you are contributing to such a worthwhile cause, all while raising a dog you come to love and adore, makes puppy raising such a great experience.

Words of Wisdom for Prospective Puppy Raisers: It can be very easy to feel as though you are powerless to help other people. Raising a BluePath puppy allows you to give a gift that goes beyond money or material objects. By devoting your time to training a dog, you also give children with autism the opportunity to go places and do things with their family that they couldn't go to or do before. I can’t begin to describe how wonderful and uplifting that feeling is.

Fast Facts:

About Aimee:

  • Where She Lives: East Schodack, NY
  • Dream Vacation Spot: Hawaii or the Galapagos Islands (anywhere with cool marine life!)
  • Favorite Singer: Ed Sheeran

About Mary:

  • Newest Skill: Greeting
  • Nickname: Mare-Bear (because she makes grizzly bear-like sounds whenever she wants another dog to chase or play with her!)
  • Quirkiest Trait: Will try to drag tree trunks that weigh more than she does through the woods whenever she goes on hikes
  Current Status: Mary is in our Formal Training Program with our professional instructors.

Current Status: Mary is in our Formal Training Program with our professional instructors.

Humans of BluePath: Kathleen Hayward, Puppy Raiser

 Kathleen and her husband, Stephen, with Duke.

Kathleen and her husband, Stephen, with Duke.

How it All Began: I loved dogs and I loved the idea of raising a dog for someone else. I have a good friend whose daughter is on the spectrum. When she was little, she loved watching my dog’s tail wag back and forth. It was then, in 1998, that I first recognized the deep connection between animals and humans.

Favorite Part of Volunteering for BluePath: You really gain an extended family when you become a puppy raiser. There’s such a wonderful sense of community. It’s an amazing feeling to be a part of something that is making a difference, and it’s amazing to be doing it as a team.

Favorite Part of Puppy Raising: It’s such a joy to raise a puppy. The puppy I’m raising has left of piece of him with me and it’s my hope that, when he leaves, he’ll take a piece of me with him too. There’s just such a wholeness to puppy raising that is so fulfilling and exciting.

Words of Wisdom for Prospective Puppy Raisers: It's a lot like having a two year old – the advantage is that you can put your dog in a crate!

Lots of people tell me that they would love to raise a puppy but could never give them up. My response is that it’s the same as sending your kids off to college: you raise them with the idea that they’re going to grow up and have a life away from you. It’s hard work, and you can be both excited and sad about giving up your dog, but it’s so worth it. I love it.

Fast Facts:

About Kathleen:

  • Where She Lives: Brooksville, Maine
  • Dream Vacation Spot: Rome or the Grand Canyon
  • Favorite Hobbies: Gardening, sewing, quilting

About Duke:

  • Newest Skill: Venturing up and down the stairs  
  • Quirkiest Trait: You can tell how hard a task is by counting the wrinkles on his nose
  • Cutest Quality: Adorable neck rolls that never disappeared after puppyhood
 BluePath Duke learns how to play dominoes with Kathleen's granddaughter (and BluePath's newest puppy-raiser-in-training!).

BluePath Duke learns how to play dominoes with Kathleen's granddaughter (and BluePath's newest puppy-raiser-in-training!).

Humans of BluePath: Nicole Guite, Puppy Raiser

 Nicole and her first BluePath puppy, Pearl.

Nicole and her first BluePath puppy, Pearl.

How it All Began: I wanted to have a dog in New York City but wasn’t ready to make a long commitment. Raising a puppy allowed me to do both while knowing I was making an impact on other people’s lives.

Favorite Part of Volunteering for BluePath: It’s fun to have a community of puppy raisers to stay in touch with now that I’m in Wisconsin.

 Nicole and her second BluePath puppy, Journey.

Nicole and her second BluePath puppy, Journey.

Favorite Part of Puppy Raising: I think the best is yet to come! The happiness and excitement of knowing that a dog I raised will be matched with a family. It’s sad when they leave, but the best way to get over giving up your dog is to get another one to raise. I got my second BluePath puppy, Journey, on the same day I sent my first puppy to Formal Training.

Advice for Prospective Puppy Raisers: Do it!

Fast Facts:

About Nicole:

  • Where She Lives: Wausau, Wisconsin
  • Dream Vacation Spot: Anywhere outside the United States
  • Most Watched Movie: Dirty Dancing

About Journey:

  • Newest Skill: Settling
  • Name Origin: Specially chosen by BluePath Puppy Raisers in honor of BluePath’s one-year anniversary. The name celebrates BluePath’s “Journey” toward providing safety, comfort, and independence to families touched by autism. And it’s pretty darn cute!
  • Quirkiest Trait: Extreme mellowness – he would much rather let toys bounce off his face than make any effort to catch them!
 Nicole with Pearl (left) and Journey (right). 

Nicole with Pearl (left) and Journey (right). 

A sister's story of hope

By Maddy Zarro

I was six when my brother regressed, so I remember how it changed our family. The constant doctor’s appointments, the hours spent in waiting rooms. The cabinets bursting with medication, the never-ending stream of therapists in and out of our home. Most of all, though, I remember the fear. The way my dad’s shoulders tensed every time we left the house. The way my mom tracked my brother’s every movement, unable to look away from him for even a second.

I remember that we never entered a room without first noting every possible escape route. I remember helping my little brother into neon shirts each morning, and hoping that it’d make him easier to find in a crowd. I remember the photos of him that we kept in our wallets, ready to be thrust into the hand of the nearest police officer in the event of an emergency that seemed all too likely.

When Danny developed autism, his world became a hostile and overwhelming place. His sensory processing difficulties heightened every sensation, to the point where the sound of a door closing was deafening and the touch of shirt tag felt like the lick of a flame. He lost the ability to communicate, and he couldn’t explain to us the pain and discomfort he felt every day.

Like many other children with autism, he was prone to elopement--sudden bolting or wandering that placed his life at risk every time we stepped outside of our home. Our family dynamic changed dramatically, as it was always necessary that one parent stayed with Danny while the other tended to my sister and I. We lived in constant fear of losing him. And so we prepared for disaster in every way that we could, or we didn’t leave the house at all.

When Shade bounded into our lives, all of this changed. As his autism service dog, Shade walked beside Danny attached to him by a tether. She kept him safe when he tried to wander, and calmed him when the world around him was too much to take in. Autism had made much of my brother’s world inaccessible to him: his environment, his peers, and even his family. But with Shade, we saw his world reopen. Shade taught Danny how to walk safely and independently, which made it possible for us to travel as a family again.

For the first time, I saw other children approach my brother, and want to meet him and his dog. With a quiet smile, my brother showed them how to feed Shade treats and pet her velvety ears, and engaged in the first social experiences he’d ever had. Shade gave Danny a gift of safety and security that not only saved his life, but also became a platform from which he could learn, grow, and succeed. With Shade by his side, Danny could finally connect to the world and the people around him.  It was, and is, beautiful to see.

Shade has been a service dog for the whole family. Every night, I hear her pad down the hallway into each of our bedrooms, sleeping in each for a few hours at a time as part of her nightly routine of checking on us. She’s been known to seek out the person in the room who needs her the most--whether they’re ill, anxious, or uncomfortable--and plop her big head onto their lap for them to pet. Having Shade in the house has eased the fear that once pervaded our home, and replaced it with love, laughter, and joy. My parents no longer have to decide which of them will stay home with Danny while the other attends a family event or runs an errand; with Shade, we can share in experiences that would have once been impossible. Shade has brought us closer together than we ever dared to hope.

One in 59 children with autism means that many families walk autism’s arduous path as we do. My family supports BluePath Service Dogs in the hope of paying forward the miracle that we received to other families like ours. In joining BluePath, we have found a community unlike any other. BluePath isn’t just there when your child receives a service dog. They are there before, in the social and emotional support that a network of families provides. They are there when your service dog is just a puppy, travelling to raisers and fosters and trainers who open their homes to rambunctious little puppies and celebrate every milestone in their training, every step closer to helping your child. And they are there after, for every step that child and service dog take together, toward bountiful years of happiness and growth. Autism can be a difficult path to walk; but thanks to the love and kindness of BluePath, my family no longer walks it alone.

 Maddy snuggling with BluePath Lakota.

Maddy snuggling with BluePath Lakota.