Columbia non-profit wants to reduce service dog shortage
COLUMBIA - University of Missouri student Nic Rhone is raising a rambunctious 9-month-old black Labrador retriever named J.C. through Puppies with Purpose.
“I’ve always loved dogs and I just knew that it was something for me. You’re helping someone in need down the road; you may never see them but it just still warms your heart,” Rhone said.
Puppies With Purpose is an organization that aids in the training process for puppies to become assistance or service dogs. The dogs’ training can last 18 months to two and a half years. Puppies With Purpose volunteers work to socialize and prepare the dogs for more rigorous training through CHAMP Assistance Dogs.
The puppies are exposed to various noises, people and situations at a young age to prepare them for similar events they might experience as service or assistance dogs.
Based on each dog’s size, personality and skill set, CHAMP provides more specific training, instructing the dogs to help people with a variety of cognitive and physical disabilities.
J.C. is on track to finish his training with Rhone within two years. The puppy has a good temperament with people and children and is already trained to perform tasks using his head and paws. Although Rhone said J.C. is also a “goofball.”
Service and assistance dogs are difficult to obtain – those who need them might have to wait years and spend as much as $23,000. CHAMP is one of the few suppliers that provides the dogs free of charge, places dogs with children and has established an extensive matching process to ensure all dogs are compatible with the humans they assist.
Puppies With Purpose and CHAMP also partner with the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia.
When the dogs are younger, they spend several weeks at a time in the women’s prison to become more accustomed to the atmosphere. Then they complete more intensive training with the inmates. The organizations intend for this portion of the training to be beneficial for both the women and the potential service or assistance dogs.
Rhone said he thoroughly enjoys his part in the organization, but it can be challenging at times.
“When you go out to a store or to class or campus and everyone is like ‘Oh my gosh a puppy! Can I pet it?’ But, they have to know that when they’re in a vest they’re working and we cannot say hello to people,” Rhone said.