Humans of BluePath: John Mattis

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: 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

Humans of BluePath: Monica Lewis, Sitter

How it All Began: As someone who works with children with autism, I have seen firsthand the calming influence that animals can have on individuals with special needs. While at work one day, I received a postcard from BluePath outlining their mission to help children with autism. I called and found out that, though I had limited time I could offer them, I could still make a meaningful impact as a sitter. It was from that postcard and phone call that we got Pearl, a young adult dog in formal training.

Favorite Part of Volunteering for BluePath: Knowing that the dog I’m caring for can potentially become a service dog for a child with autism. These children have such special gifts to share with the world. If caring for a dog can help them unlock those gifts, or even just make them feel a little more comfortable in their daily lives, then I think that’s the best thing I can do.

Favorite Part of Being a Sitter: Pearl has been such a wonderful presence in our house. Just having her in here when I wake up in the morning and when I come home in the evening – opening the door and seeing her standing there, bursting with excitement – really speaks volumes to the joys of having this dog become a part of our lives. I love spending time both with my family and with Pearl; I’m very fortunate that I get to combine the two as a sitter.

Words of Wisdom for Prospective Sitters: Being a sitter is great for people who cannot make a longtime commitment but who want to have a lasting impact on the lives of others. Sure, your house will never be as clean as it might be without a dog in it, but that's a small price to pay for such an incredible experience. Dog sitting is a temporary commitment that results in a lifetime of reward both for you and for the dog’s future family.

Fast Facts:

About Monica:

  • Where She Lives: Hopewell Junction, NY
  • Dream Vacation Spot: Alaska (to see the Northern Lights)
  • Favorite Way to Relax: Walking and reading (coincidentally, the last book she read was about a family that moves to Alaska!)

About Pearl:

  • Bedtime Routine: When Monica tells Pearl that she’s tired and ready for bed, Pearl goes upstairs and sits in her crate (the dog equivalent of “yup, I’m ready for bed too!”)
  • Favorite Scratch Spot: Her belly (when you start petting her, she will literally fall down and roll onto her back so that you have full access to her stomach!)
  • Three Words to Describe Her: Feisty (in the best way possible!), loving, and loyal
Monica's daughter Rachel loves spending quality time with Pearl.

Monica's daughter Rachel loves spending quality time with Pearl.

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

Humans of BluePath: Jeannie Fleming-Gifford, Puppy Raiser


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.