Litter of service dogs in training celebrate first birthday, enter final stretch of training

Non-profit CHAMP Assistance Dogs places the service dogs free of charge to clients, but the process of raising and properly training them costs upwards of $30,000.
Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 7:22 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - A litter of local service dogs in training recently celebrated their first birthday, marking the halfway point in their extensive training process.

Last October, News 4 was there as the then eight-week-old puppies were placed with their “puppy raisers,” volunteers that raise and train them before they’re eventually placed with someone suffering from a cognitive or physical disability.

Over the last year, the dogs have attended weekly training sessions at CHAMP Assistance Dogs, along with practicing their skills at home. Some of the dogs spend several weeks at a federal women’s prison in Greenville, Illinois, where offenders continue the training and expose the dogs to a different environment.

“There is an awful lot of need,” said Pam Budke, Executive Director of CHAMP. “I’d say on a daily basis we get about 10 calls or emails of people inquiring about a dog.”

Budke said there is currently a two-year waiting list for a service animal at her non-profit. All seven dogs in the current litter remain in the program, which doesn’t always happen.

“They’ve done amazing, every single one of them,” she said. “That’s great, because that means we can help the maximum number of people possible. None of them have been released or have become pets and this is where it gets hard, but they love it.”

For the next six to twelve months, the dogs will undergo training for advanced skills, such as opening and closing doors, turning on lights and picking up objects off the floor.

But before that, the litter celebrated their accomplishments thus far with a pool party.

“About 10 months ago I was holding her in my arms during an interview and now she’s too big to hold,” said Jill Taylor, a puppy raiser. “She’s so sweet and its been a really fun journey to see her grow up and to do what she’s meant to do which is help somebody some day.”

Taylor’s dog, Lexus, will head to the women’s Federal Correctional Institution in Greenville on Wednesday. There, she’ll spend six or eight weeks continuing her training.

“It’s helped me as well because we’ve gone periods of time with her gone, so it helps me balance my emotions and remember that even though I’ve raised her, she’s not mine,” said Taylor.

Susan Kelly, another puppy raiser, said she’s encouraged by the growth her pup, Jag, has shown.

“I am so proud of Jag and how far he has come and how he’s doing right now and so I feel great,” she said. “The one thing he needs to work on is his stamina, he likes to take breaks,” she laughed. “But that could serve him well in a facility type setting.”

The dogs will be primarily placed within the St. Louis region, allowing the puppy raisers and CHAMP volunteers the opportunity to keep tabs on their new lives.

“It’s really special,” said Budke. “It’s so incredibly rewarding.”