And the ring-bearer is.... BluePath Mikey!

Abby & Phil's Handsome Ringbearer.jpeg

If you could read a puppy raiser’s mind, you’d likely hear “note-to-self; this needs work” or NTS/NW. Mikey is at a stage where that thought runs through my mind quite frequently. He knows the verbal and hand cues for all of his commands. Unique challenges out in the real world are a chance to test his skills. So when my niece informed me that she wanted Mikey to be the ring-bearer at her wedding I eagerly agreed. What a puppy raiser’s dream! He would be 8 months old by the time of her wedding with the manners and maturity needed to rise to the occasion. As the wedding drew nearer her grandmother laughed at the idea that this energetic, goof-ball would successfully get the rings where they needed to go. (NTS/NW, prove Nana wrong.)

By the end of the Friday night dress rehearsal, NTS/NW flooded my head. Mikey loves meeting people and was beside himself having to ignore the bridal party. How was I going to get him down the aisle once all those chairs were filled? We learned where we were to stand and got a sense of how long the ceremony would be. We also learned that the lawn of a vineyard in New York’s Finger Lakes Region is bug land. Gnats formed a gray cloud around Mikey,  causing him to squirm beside me. Investigating the little buggers, he began licking down there. No, no, no. (NTS/NW, he needs to ignore the bugs.) We’d line-up at 5:30pm. The ceremony, dinner and dancing would add up to 4-5 hours that this puppy would have to manage his impulses and demonstrate the superb training BluePath Service Dogs are known for. (NTS/NW, make this fun for him.)

We arrived on Saturday ahead of time and gave Mikey a chance to just be a dog. We played fetch, tugged with a brand new toy, went for a walk where he sniffed to hearts content and said hello to dozens of visiting tourists. I waited until the very last minute to get him dressed and lined up for the procession. Walking down the aisle he was focused and relaxed. My gratitude and adoration for my 4-legged teammate pulsated down the leash with every ‘aw, how cute!’ from the wedding guests. The ceremony began with champagne toasts from the maid of honor and best man. Mikey’s ‘champagne’ was a chew toy stuffed with treats attached to a rope. Holding my champagne glass in one hand and hanging onto his toy with the other to prevent it from rolling out of his reach, he quietly paid no mind to the bugs.

 From left to right: Anne, Abby, Phil and of course, Mikey.

From left to right: Anne, Abby, Phil and of course, Mikey.

Pictures followed, then inside for the reception. Mikey’s stamina was waning. He had a difficult time settling under the table. (NTS/NW, his endurance will get better as he gets older.) He was happy to jump into his crate in the car for a break during dinner. When the dancing started I brought him back in for his next training challenge. With dinner over it had become a different scene. He was completely at ease with the frenetic energy as we entered the room, but something else grabbed his attention. Popcorn and cake crumbs littered the floor. (NTS/NW, must practice dropping tidbits on the floor at home.) We moved beyond the food remnants and were swarmed as soon as we reached the dance floor. No worries, this is where Mikey excels. He looked at me for an ok to say hi and squirmed with joy as he greeted everyone.

I handed his leash to the bride, then the best man, then one guest after another. Each of them took him across the room to a new cluster of partyers where they in-turn were swarmed and Mikey was amazing. What they saw was a super cute, well-mannered puppy they could play with in the middle of a wedding reception. What I saw was a puppy in training practicing his future job of drawing people to the person on the other end of his leash.

When I made my rounds to say goodnight, Nana was pretty impressed with how well Mikey had done. (NTS/TY, remember to thank the bride for giving Mikey this excellent chance to further his training.) “Seeing is believing.” I said, “He’s on the right path.”

Busy Izzy (and indeed she is Busy!)

By: Jeannie Fleming-Gifford, Volunteer Puppy Raiser

 Jeannie and her daughter, Ella, cuddle with Izzy by the waters edge.

Jeannie and her daughter, Ella, cuddle with Izzy by the waters edge.

I knew what I was getting into. Yes, I have been down this road before. For the last 15 years, my family has welcomed puppies into our home. Oh yes, they are cute, but...

Izzy arrived in January 2018.  An 8-week-old puppy and winter in Ohio. Did I mention 8-week-old puppy? A glorious time to housetrain a pup (insert my eyes rolling here). Izzy sure did keep us busy. Inside. Outside. Repeat. And then she would sleep. And play. And cuddle. Then in and out again with the puppy in that cold wintry weather.

As the seasons changed, Izzy grew quickly. Three, then four months old and spring arrived. Basic commands...sit, down, stay...Walks became longer, and outings expanded from our house and into the community.

Izzy was welcomed into the long-term care facility where my mom resides. People who no longer were growing, but instead whose health was failing, lit up with the chance to visit with her. Izzy, an exuberant puppy, was pleased to partake in these visits and quickly learned that she would be rewarded with kibble for her good choices.

As summer approached, Izzy discovered her love of water...from her own baby pool in our backyard to the local river she loved to wade in. If there was water, there was Izzy wanting to be in it. And, of course, with water, came many baths.

Izzy has grown. Physically, she now weighs close to 55 pounds. And, of course, she has grown in skill. She happily demonstrates her skill sets of sit, down, stay, over, and even “paw” which provides an amusing greeting to newcomers.

Explorations in our community have now grown into more regional ones. With her vest on, Izzy happily – and mostly – engages in outings to the store or even a quick-service restaurant.

Our days as a family are busy and Izzy now has the skills and temperament for most adventures.

Izzy has become my personal fitness trainer. 5am weekday walks and 6am on the weekends. She is energetic and focused as we navigate our way through the darkness, often met by skunks and deer and an occasional person. Even if I am not motivated to trudge out in the dark, Izzy is, and somehow, she persuades me to lace up those shoes day in and day out.

She has become accustomed to our family’s routines of making lunches and a treat for her that she receives after a mid-day crate and play break. She waits and watches patiently as we go through these daily routines.


And as she ages, I know our seasons will change again soon. In November she turns a year. She is settling down (a bit) and showing her readiness to learn even more. As I have done so many times before with other pups, I will eventually see her off to her new season, her new opportunities and for the purpose which she was born to pursue - that of a working service dog for a child with autism.

And my days? I anticipate – like the seasons noted above – will continue to change too. One thing for sure, I will miss being busy with this pup named Izzy.

BluePath receives $5,000 grant from the Laura J. Niles Foundation

The Laura J. Niles Foundation encourages and supports efforts to improve the lives of both people and animals. During her lifetime, Laura Niles possessed a great appreciation for the gift of companionship. Whether it was through the ever-present company of her French poodles or by a visit from an old friend, Ms. Niles always relished the time she spent with others. It was through this appreciation that Ms. Niles developed a special concern for those afflicted with isolation.

BluePath is the proud recipient of a $5,000 grant from the Foundation to support of our Formal Training Program. We are incredibly grateful for their support.

 BluePath Roxy, Photo Credit: Melissa Davis Photography

BluePath Roxy, Photo Credit: Melissa Davis Photography

New York Rangers Pup On a Path - Exercise Plan

GOAL: For Ranger to reliably perform his skills so that he is ready for hockey season and to be an autism service dog in the future. 



(Exercises, Purpose, Notes)

  • Dress, Body Handling, Ranger puts his head through his puppy jacket (jersey) when he hears “get dressed.” A pup can’t exercise without his clothes on!

  • Name, You talkin’ to me??, Ranger responds when he hears his name so he’s ready to focus. This good boy also responds to “Meatball.”


  • Puck Drop, Ceremonial, Ranger places whatever is in his mouth (a puck, probably a puck…) onto the floor when he hears “Drop.”

  • Recalls, Body ComPAWsition, Ranger runs swiftly to his puppy raiser when he hears “Here.”

  • Push-Pups, Pupper Body Strength, Ranger does “Sit” and Down” four times in a row. It’s hard to jump into a sitting position, but Ranger has a pep in his step.

  • Box jumps, Coordination, Ranger jumps on and off a raised object when he hears “hup” and “off.” Hard for a pupper with short legs, but our little meatball does a great job.  

  This isn’t exactly “close…” but it’s pretty adorable. :)  Photo via NYRangers/MSG.

This isn’t exactly “close…” but it’s pretty adorable. :) Photo via NYRangers/MSG.


  • High five, Favorite Skill, Ranger “high-fives” his handler with his paw for a job well done!

  • Close, Snugs, Ranger sits in between his handler’s legs when he hears “close.” Every puppy workout should end with a good cuddle session.

Working out can be ruff, but practicing skills gives Ranger a new leash on life. He takes it all the way bark to the BEGginning and refreshes the basics like name response, but also pups the ante with patterned retrievals and jumps. Anything is pawssible when you STAY focused and work hard! 


BluePath receives $4,000 donation from H.O.P.E. For Youth Foundation

H.O.P.E. For Youth Foundation is dedicated to facilitating positive change in the lives of children, adolescents and families. The organization provides stable, nurturing, residential care, foster care, preventive and out-patient programs which educate, motivate and empower individuals to become self-sufficient and achieve their full potential.

BluePath is the proud recipient of a $4,000 grant from the H.O.P.E. For Youth Foundation. These funds will help support our Formal Training Program.

We are extremely grateful for the Foundation's continued support of our mission. 

 BluePath Chelsea

BluePath Chelsea

Humans of BluePath: Namali, Foster

 Namali and Shiloh

Namali and Shiloh

How It All Began: In researching the role of a foster, I realized that it’s an opportunity to be actively engaged in the good work BluePath does in enabling families in need to receive a service dog.

Favorite Part of Being a Foster: Although the outcome is unknown at the beginning of the process, I find it very rewarding to assist in preparing a dog for placement in the hope that this dog can eventually help a family in need.

Advice for Prospective Fosters: If you love dogs and want them in your life without the commitment that comes with “owning” a dog, this is a great opportunity. You are able to participate in BluePath’s mission and help an extremely valuable program. Even if you already have other dogs at home, you can help your community tremendously by being a part of this amazing organization.

Fast Facts:

About Namali:

  • Favorite Movie: Cold Mountain  
  • Favorite Book: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet
  • Favorite Quote: “Live simply so others can simply live” – Mahatma Gandhi  

About Shiloh:

  • Favorite Activity: Going on walks at any time of day and in any weather, with wide eyes, a bobbing head, and a tireless trot :)  
  • Prime Petting Location: Her belly
  • Three Words to Describe Her: Small yet mighty (cute and little in size, but will let you know what she wants and when she wants it!)


Humans of BluePath: John Mattis, Driver

 John and Evie at BluePath's 2018 Walkathon.

John and Evie at BluePath's 2018 Walkathon.

How it All Began: I learned about BluePath when Dr. Sandler came to speak at my Rotary Club. I asked him where BluePath gets their dogs from and he said North Carolina. I have a close friend down there and visit her often, so I said, “Gee, do you need people to transport your dogs to New York?” I love dogs and am already traveling to and from North Carolina. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to adhere to the Rotary slogan of “service above self.”

Favorite Part of Volunteering for BluePath: The puppies are a lot of fun! I get a good feeling when bringing the puppies up and I love following their path as they get older and complete different stages of their training. Knowing that I play a small part in the good work that BluePath and these puppies do is a reward in itself. I also deeply appreciate my friend Cathy Petriano’s generosity letting me keep the puppies at her place before our road trip back to New York!

Favorite Puppy Driving Memory: The first time I made the trip from North Carolina to New York I had one puppy. The second time, I had two puppies, and the third time I had four puppies. When I had four, I stopped to walk and feed them all and so many people came over to look at and pet them. There were two ten-week-old puppies and two six-week-old puppies so they were really small at the time. I felt like I needed a police escort with all the attention the puppies were getting!

Advice for Prospective Volunteers: Go ahead and do it. I became so much more aware of the wonderful things dogs can do with children on the autism spectrum. There’s a really extraordinary bond that’s formed – those dogs have special powers that make them incredible companions. We’re all here to help and do what we can to help make life a little easier for children with autism and their families. Whatever you give to BluePath you get back tenfold. I feel that I do.

Fast Facts:

  • Favorite Way to Relax: Reading mystery novels
  • Dream Vacation Spot: Katmandu (to see Mt. Everest but certainly never attempt to climb it!)
  • Favorite Musical Group: The Beach Boys
  • Ideal Celebrity Road Trip Buddy: Golfer Phil Mickelson (he’s a good family man, funds his own charity organization, and is a great golfer!)

Humans of BluePath: Cathy Capasso, Superstar

 Cathy and Ranger.

Cathy and Ranger.

How It All Began: My husband and I are involved with BluePath through a group of car and motorcycle enthusiasts we started called “Team Michelangelo.” We got together in 2009 to do a car and bike show to raise money for animals. It was there that we met the founders of BluePath. When I saw what amazing work they did, I wanted to get involved.

What Does it Mean to be a BluePath Superstar?: I will do anything they need me to do! Whatever it is, I just love helping out in any way that I can. So far, Team Michelangelo has provided sponsorship for the two BluePath vans. I remember when we got the first van wrapped with the BluePath and Team Michelangelo logos. I still get chills thinking about it! Every time I see those vans I get giggly.

Favorite Part of Volunteering for BluePath: There’s a professionalism that you don't often see in organizations, let alone nonprofits. It’s rare to find a group of people as good, kind, and intelligent as the ones at BluePath. They’re open to your ideas and are willing to help you every step of the way. Right now, I’m learning how to help work with the dogs; it has been incredible to see what the training process entails.

Advice for Prospective Volunteers: Try it. You can’t fail. If you’re thinking about joining, have a conversation with them. Have a conversation with some of the other volunteers. Ask about their feelings and experiences with BluePath. You’ll never know what you’re missing unless you try.  

Fast Facts:

  • Favorite Way to Relax: Making jewelry or taking pictures, especially pictures of rescue cats (Cathy’s expert advice: Don't be afraid to use your phone to take pictures; the best camera is always the one you have with you!)
  • Favorite Book and Movie: Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz
  • Ideal Celebrity Walkathoner: Rod Stewart or Richard Gere (who apparently has some mutual friends within BluePath so… Hey, Richard! Wanna come to our next Walkathon??)

Humans of BluePath: John Hannah, Walkathon Committee

How it All Began: While employed as a policeman in the ‘90s, I volunteered by doing carpentry at another service dog organization. When I retired from law enforcement in 2010, I made an offhand comment that I was newly unemployed and wouldn't mind using my time to aid in their mission. I began work the next week as “the person who fixed things” around the building. It was here that I became aware of autism service dogs and the great work that people like the Sandlers do on behalf of the autism community.

Favorite Part of Volunteering for BluePath: I’m a member of BluePath’s Walkathon Committee, which means I attend monthly meetings to help organize their annual Walkathon. I also play music for all of their events. It is such a pleasure and a privilege to work with people as smart, capable, and articulate as those at BluePath. Their work creates ripples of positivity in not just the life of the child who receives the dog but also in their family, their school, and their community. I play a small part in making a big and positive impact in people’s lives. It’s incredibly rewarding.

Fondest Walkathon Memory: As anyone who attended this year’s Walkathon knows, the weather was not ideal. We were worried that the pouring rain would deter people from coming out. However, what ended up happening was that we had a fantastic, large, energetic group of people that showed up despite the rain to support the organization and its mission. That made every meeting and every phone call and every email worthwhile; it was a great feeling.

Advice for Prospective Volunteers: One dog can make such a huge difference in the life of a child. It can help create a sense of normalcy while decreasing the amounts of worry and stress felt by a family. The reward you get in the end is so much greater than the work you put in, and seeing the good that results from your efforts really makes you want to get involved to support that mission and make that mission continue. It’s absolutely worth it.

Fast Facts:

About John:

  • Dream Vacation Spot: Zion and Bryce (since he’s already been to the Grand Canyon, Lake Mead, and Lake Havasu!)
  • Favorite Way to Relax: Mixing and remixing artists’ songs
  • Ideal Celebrity Guest at a BluePath Walkathon: George Clooney (both because of his role in Ocean’s Eleven and because he’s a philanthropist who gives back to his community)

To all the dogs I've loved before

by Saxon Eastman

There’s no role in life I covet more than puppy raiser. What better way to learn honesty, integrity and connection than through the unconditional love of a dog? It’s said, “mother always knows best”—or maybe in this case it’s “raiser”—but you’ve all taught me time and again that often the best plan is the one you don’t plan for.

  Saxon, Boulder and Jose

Saxon, Boulder and Jose

To Boulder — No matter how prepared I thought I was, I had no idea how hooked on puppy raising you would make me. Prior to you rolling into my life, I spent countless hours at puppy classes, meeting with Boston College administrative personnel and reading all the puppy raising documents I could find. I always knew you had it in you to be a guide dog—you try harder than any other dog I know, fearlessly take on whatever comes your way and were by far my favorite classmate—and even though sometimes you acted like your head was full of rocks, you did all of this while maintaining the best sense of humor of any dog I know. Sure enough, you graduated right on time, and when your new handler, Jose, said to me, “Boulder is more than just a dog, he’s a part of me,” I knew that you had found your place and your person.

  Saxon and Vinny

Saxon and Vinny

To Vincent — Don’t tell the others, but you’re my favorite. There was a time when I was certain there was no other option for you than to become a guide dog, but it just wasn’t in the cards. I did what I could to control your chronic ear infections, but the allergies won and at 11 months old you were released from training and shortly thereafter became my pet. The onslaught of sadness and disappointment that you wouldn’t be a guide dog coupled with the happiness of knowing you were now forever by my side was new and confusing to me. I think deep down I always knew that you were meant for me though, and in the years that have passed since that time you have helped me socialize four more service dog puppies. You’ve also stolen my food, my spot on the couch, and more than your fair share of the bed. But most importantly, you’ve been the rock that helped me keep my head above water when I needed an extra boost. You continue to be of the greatest service to me, without being a service dog at all.

  Wrangler... downtime on a paddleboard

Wrangler... downtime on a paddleboard

To Wrangler — It’s impossible to put into words how special you are to me, but if I am to try, you are a puppy with a purpose who helped me find my purpose. My personal and professional growth were exponential through you and I can’t imagine where I would be today without you. More than any of my other puppies before, I so yearned for you to have success as a guide dog. All eyes were on you, and with lots of love and hard work, you became someone else’s eyes. Your guide dog graduation came and went, but there was always something in me that felt unsettled. Sure enough, you confirmed my suspicions and returned from the field ready to end your career as a guide and try your paw at something new. I was scared for you because I didn’t know much about Connecticut State Police or what life as a detection dog would be. In my mind, I worried that being a working dog might not be for you any longer, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. You have the most loving family--Kevin is the best partner I could ever imagine for you. You have a job that makes you truly happy, a lake in your backyard and a boat you get to play on each weekend (what more could a pup want?). I thought you would be the keeper of a single person’s safety, but instead you ensure that everyone riding the MetroNorth New Haven line can travel without risk—which on occasion, even includes me. Thank you for making such a big difference in the world Wrangles.  You’re exceptional.

  Jewel with Morgan and Vermont State Police Officer Steve

Jewel with Morgan and Vermont State Police Officer Steve

To Jewel — I thought you were a shoe in for guide work. I’d never raised a dog I had more confidence in because you’re the whole package—fiercely independent and almost too smart for your own good. All your training reports detailed how well you were doing and I was anxiously awaiting the day that I would receive word you had found your match as a guide. To say I was shocked when the “Jewel was released this morning” message came through would be a gross understatement. I thought you were being cheated out of what was meant for you. Maybe you could have been a good guide dog, but you’re a great detection dog and I have no doubt that it is the perfect career for you. Your graduation was the best day of my life. Watching you and your officer, Steve, work together was so enlightening and in all my time as a puppy raiser I have never felt more welcomed and appreciated. You have so much love in your life, a job that feeds your drive and a new mom, Morgan, who has kept up your excellent sense of doggo style. (Search #K9Jewel on Instagram to take a peek at everything she’s up to these days.) You’re my best girl, Jewel, and I couldn’t be happier the Connecticut State Police, Vermont State Police, and most importantly, Steve were there to help you find your purpose.

  Miller with Saxon and co-raiser Laura

Miller with Saxon and co-raiser Laura

To Miller—If someone asked me to describe the sweetest dog in the world, I’d tell them about you. You’re gentle, diligent, and there’s nothing I love more than the way you press your head into my chest when I hug you. You made me part of the Canine Companions for Independence family, and if there’s one thing that’s always true across the board it’s that teamwork makes the dream work. At the heart of raising, we are all here for connection—the connection between raiser and dog, between raiser and raiser, and ultimately, between graduate and service dog. With each passing training report I know you are closer to changing the life of an adult or child with a disability as his or her assistance dog. I can’t wait to walk across that graduation stage with you and your co-raiser, Laura, and see you look at your new handler with the same love in your eyes that you have when you look at me. Until then, my Miller, I’m thinking of you.

  Saxon and Ranger.    Photo Credit: Zachary Lane/MSG Photo Services

Saxon and Ranger.  Photo Credit: Zachary Lane/MSG Photo Services

To Ranger — Oh the places we’ll go. The journey has just begun and I’m so honored to be the person to walk by your side down this path. It feels as though I’ve been here, there and everywhere in this world of service dogs, but with you and BluePath, I’ve finally found my way home. Along with our puppy raising community and RangersTown we will work to make the world kinder, softer and more accepting. The bigger the pack, the better the puppy, and you, my little Meatball, have every chance for success. There are so many new and exciting experiences ahead of you, and you’ll create so much awareness as you go. Every step of the way, always in the back of my mind, is the child and family who are waiting patiently for you. I want you to be an autism service dog, but even more than that, I want you to find your place in this world. I want you to be happy, fulfilled and comfortable. I promise to give you the tools you’ll need to figure that out for yourself, and no matter what happens, I’ll always be your #1 fan.

To all the dogs I’ve loved before, thank you for showing me the way while finding your own.


With Love,

Your Puppy Raiser