Puppy finds ‘foster parents’ in Arrowhead | VailDaily.com

Puppy finds ‘foster parents’ in Arrowhead

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily/Bret HartmanTerra, a 10 week old golden retriever lab mix in trainning to be a service dog for disabled peolpe, plays in Bob and Aubyn Howe's yard Monday in Arrowhead.
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In a dog-crazed valley, everyone’s pooch is special. Bob and Aubyn Howe’s new puppy, though, is more special than most.The Howes, who live in Arrowhead, took delivery of Tara, a spunky lab-golden retriever mix just a few weeks old. Tara is like most pups: cute, spunky, and generally adorable. The difference between Tara and most dogs is her mission in life.It’s too soon to tell now, but Tara has been bred for, and will be trained for, life as a service dog. The Howes are just taking care of her for the next year or so, giving her a good head start before she starts training as a young adult.If she wants to work, and passes all of several training tests, Canine Companions for Independence will give Tara to someone with some kind of disability. The nonprofit group gives dogs to people in wheelchairs, to people with hearing impairments, and even to hospitals and nursing homes, so the animals can provide companionship to patients. The dogs can listen for a phone or a doorbell, get items from refrigerators, even take documents back and forth across an office. About the only segment of the disabled population the charity doesn’t serve is the blind, which has a well-established guide dog program.Thousands of canine helpers have been placed in homes around the nation. So far, though, the charity isn’t well-known in this region. The Howes and Edwards resident Anne Roberts aim to change that. Roberts, who serves on Canine Companions’ national board, hosted a fund-raiser last year. She hopes the group might be ready to catch fire locally with a local foster family in place, she said.”This is such a dog-friendly and disability-friendly valley that it seems like a natural,” Roberts said.

Being dog- and human-friendly is what Canine Companions is all about, said Paul O’Brien, director of the Canine Companions’ Colorado office. “The neat part of this is the way people can really get involved and be part of the end product of what we do,” O’Brien said. In addition to families like the Howes, other Canine Companions volunteers help fix meals during training sessions. Others help raise money. All are invited to the group’s “graduation” ceremonies at which dogs are teamed with people. According to Bob Howe, there aren’t a lot of dry eyes. “I met a guy at the graduation I went to, and he hadn’t seen the dog he’d raised in six months,” Howe said. “After he handed over the leash during graduation, I asked him if it was hard to give up his dog. He told me, ‘No. It was easy.'”Not all the dogs make it all the way through training, though. The Howes and other “basic training” families take care of socialization and basic obedience, but a companion dog has to be willing to work, and any signs of aggressive behavior will get a dog “released” from the program.

It’s too soon to tell with Tara, of course, but Bob Howe said if for some reason she doesn’t make it, he wants to bring her back.

That would be another adjustment, but the Howes have already had to make a few to bring Tara into their home. The Howes are retired, their kids are grown and they split time between homes in Phoenix and Arrowhead.Still, the Howes have obviously jumped right into their new charity.Howe said he connected with Canine Companions after his daughter found it on the Internet and suggested that the family foundation might want to make a donation. Howe looked at the information, did a bit more research, then told his daughter, “We’ll give them money, but we’re going to raise a puppy.”

While most dog owners fly by the seat of their pants raising a pup, there is literally a handbook for people like the Howes. And so far, Tara has done everything by the book.Of course, Tara isn’t just any dog. Canine Companions has its own breeding program, so the dogs it sends out for basic training already have the genetic tools in place. After that, it’s up to the dogs and the people who raise them.When the book isn’t enough, Canine Companions has a network puppy-raising families can depend on. In addition to Roberts and O’Brien, Bob Howe said there are mentor families elsewhere in the state available with advice.While Howe said he and his wife have committed to raising one pup, he seems hooked. “It’s really changing our lives,” he said.And that’s what it’s all about, especially for clients, O’Brien said.”To see the impact these dogs make is incredible,” he said. “It truly is the difference in someone being able to live an independent life.”To learn more about Canine Companions for Independence, visit the Web site: cci.org.To learn more about local efforts, call Anne Roberts, (970) 926-7322.