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.

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.

A 'Good Reason' to Say Thanks

BluePath would like to thank our friends at Good Reasons for generously donating a year's supply of treats for our dogs in Formal Training. 

Good Reasons is a locally-owned, not-for-profit dog treat company that creates scrumptious, human-grade all natural dog treats, while providing employment opportunities to people with autism and other developmental disabilities. 

Not only does Good Reasons provide healthy treats for our beloved dogs, they also help individuals touched by autism, and other developmental disabilities, achieve independence by offering jobs in an inclusive, supportive work environment. 

We're proud to partner with a company that shares our passion for creating opportunities for independence.

Lakota with Good Reasons treats.

Lakota with Good Reasons treats.

BluePath announces new addition in training department!

We are pleased to welcome Maureen Mellett to our training department. Maureen will join forces with Caroline and assist in the training of our dogs in our Formal Training and Dog Placement Programs, as well as support our Foster and Puppy Raising Programs. 

Maureen began her dog training career in 2004 as a guide dog instructor, placing expertly trained dogs with men and women with vision loss.  She then spent seven years working with Caroline McCabe-Sandler training service dogs for children with autism. 

Prior to training dogs, Maureen was a middle school science and math teacher for five years. She worked in a variety of classroom settings including teaching children with special needs and with behavioral challenges.  She received a BA in Biology from Cornell University. Maureen lives in Patterson, NY with her released service dog.  

Maureen with BluePath Sammy

Maureen with BluePath Sammy

A New Puppy in the House

By Anne Garretson

Mikey arrives and I’m filled with the worry-filled excitement of raising a BluePath puppy whose future is immensely important. Every day dawns another chance for him to learn good manners and gain confidence. We have a whole year to do that. Uh-oh, we ONLY have a year. I don’t want to screw it up! I won’t screw it up.

The big dogs cut him some slack because he’s a baby. He jumps on them, bites their ears, pokes his nose in their bowls the second they inhale their last morsels, all tolerated for now. I cut him some slack, too. Mikey’s good manners will come. I tell myself it’s okay these first couple of weeks that he’s behaving in a way we won’t tolerate a couple of months from now. Each of the big dogs started out just like him and they turned out pretty fabulous.

His joy at the discovery of a shoe I didn’t stow out of his reach gets my attention. In a daze I think, wow, he’s pretty coordinated carrying that from the bedroom to the kitchen. No wait, that’s not his! Don’t chase him, entice him to drop it. Mikey’s accidents in the house are just that. I accidently didn’t take him out in time. I hear chewing… What’s in his mouth this time?? Good pup, it’s a toy. Mikey has arrived and I feel like I’m on a boat rocking on the open sea.

We spend our first weeks together confined to one baby-gated area of the house at a time until Mikey can safely be free from my sight. There’s an order to each day. After breakfast we stay in the kitchen where he and the big dogs have room to play tag and wrestle. They gently teach him to play tug with a toy. I toss a tennis ball to the other side of the room and he puts his instincts for retrieving to work. We move to the bedroom so I can get ready for work. The big dogs know the drill and settle themselves. Mikey plays nicely on his own. After awhile he settles down, too, and watches me.

Later in the day we section ourselves off in the living room. At first it’s just Mikey and me so we can rehearse a few simple commands. We incorporate these sits, downs, here and drop throughout the course of these beginning days together. His repertoire will grow as he does. Then the big dogs come join us for quiet playtime and cuddling while I catch the evening news. He is becoming part of a pack that loves to hang out together. I’m getting to know his body language, he’s paying attention to me and everyday he captures another piece of my heart.

This first part isn’t perfect… it never is.  But I feel lucky – again – to be part of another sweet puppy’s journey to become a partner for a kid who needs him.

BluePath Mikey (L) with retired autism service dog, Rumba (R).

BluePath Mikey (L) with retired autism service dog, Rumba (R).

Walkathon 2018

The incredible turnout for our second annual walkathon was a true testament to the power of the BluePath community. Despite the torrential rains, more than 250 people joined us to raise funds and awareness - and to celebrate our beautiful blue path.

To everyone who attended the walk, made a contribution, or simply contributed to the positive energy of the day - thank you. Together, we are unlocking life's potential for children and families touched by autism.

Check out photos from the day here. 

We are infinitely grateful for the support of our 2018 sponsors:


Croton Lions Club


A. DeVito & SonAvalonBay CommunitiesCLG ConstructionCo-CommunicationsElite CarriersEmpire BlueCross BlueShieldShrub Oak International School


D’Gabby Fine French Restaurant, The Neva and Howard Goldstein Family Charitable Fund, G.S. BounceHudson Valley Men's Adult Baseball LeagueNexGard / HeartgardQuinn Law Firm, Peekskill Rotary ClubState Farm - Ken LemenzeTeam MichelangeloVolz Auto


Animal Specialty CenterAu Pair in AmericaCity of Rye Police AssociationCroton Animal Hospital, Decker Tool Rental, Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie 1042 Ladies Auxiliary, Hudson Financial Group - Deborah BeckerHudson Highlands Veterinary Medical Group, J & J Ferraro Real Estate Kolmar Americas Inc.Middletown Veterinary HospitalTaconic Route 202 24 Hour Veterinary CenterThe Westchester Bank

Additional thanks to our course sign sponsors:

Central Hudson Gas & Electric, Club Fit, The Egelsen Family, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Mountain Pass Planning, Middlebranch Veterinary, National Print + Promo, New York Life Insurance Company, North Westchester Vet Office, Pawprints Boutique & Spa, Putnam County Savings Bank, Sarandipty Pet Wear, Set Back Inn, South Putnam Animal Hospital, Taxpert, UMAC - Carmel, UMAC - Shrub Oak, Williams Lumber, Wipe Your Paws

And special thanks to:

Auburn Jewelry, Backyard Sports, Gyro Uno Food TruckTarrytown Fire Department

Our Walkathon is SATURDAY!

Our second annual walkathon is THIS SATURDAY!   

The Walkathon will take place in Lot 4.  In the event the lot is full, overflow parking is available in Lot 3.  Upon arrival, be sure to let the FDR Park gate attendants know you're there for the walkathon; parking is free for our supporters. 

Please arrive at 10am for the walk to begin at 10:30, with food, games and fun to follow.  (Note that gluten free items are available.)  

We have two walking options for you: enjoy a 1.7 mile stroll or stretch your legs a bit more on our three mile track.  Friendly dogs are welcome, on leashes 6-ft. long or shorter.  

New this year are Parents' Helpers.  You won't miss them in their lime green tee shirts and they'll be scattered throughout the parking lots and fields.  Borrow one for a few minutes or a few hours - they're there for you!  

Thank you for believing in BluePath's mission; we can't wait to see all of you this weekend.  

(Online registration closes at 8pm on 5/18. Onsite registration is available starting at 10am on 5/19.)

2018 Walk Social Promo.jpeg