GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.–His name is Griff. An 11-week-old black Lab puppy attending his first day of school.
“I’m a little nervous, and I think he’s a little nervous,” said Amy Ettinger from Lowell, Griff’s owner and handler.
Griff, along the mix of Poodles and Golden Retrievers after taking a break for a quick scratch.
“I’m struggling with the fact that he doesn’t like to walk more than three or four steps,” said Ettinger.
Griff gets the hang of it and quickly adapts to the instructor’s directions.
The class, going on at Life EMS Ambulance in Grand Rapids, is more than dog obedience school.
The pups are training to become assistance or service dogs through Paws With A Cause, a nationwide non-profit that serves patients with a range of disabilities from blindness to seizures.
“When she puts on the cape, she knows what she’s supposed to do and she does her stuff,” said Jane Hoggard, talking about her 6-month-old Golden Retriever named Zeena.
The lesson on Wednesday? Emergency services.
“Our clients are people with disabilities and it is a fact that ambulance rides are part of their lives,” explains Deb Davis, National Marketing Manager for Paws With A Cause.
“Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is legal for a service dog or assistance dog user to take their assistance dog with them in an ambulance, as a long as they are under control,” she said.
To get the dogs comfortable with that part of the job, they were introduced to medical equipment, EMS workers, and the inside of an ambulance.
“The different sights and smells in an ambulance could be scary, so the exposure for them is really important,” said Davis.
After getting acquainted with the emergency vehicle, the dogs got to hear a blaring siren for the first time. A Poodle name Candy raised her ears, but still remained calm.
“I’m surprised at how calm they all were,” said Hoogard.
Calm and cool, veteran service dogs like Cricket, a 10-year-old Golden Retriever, set and example for the new pups.
While in training, the puppies will stay with their volunteer foster owners for about 15 months which includes multiple phases of training classes. When they’re ready, they will be evaluated and assigned a service and a new companion. One that will likely rely on them for years to come.
“The experience for me is just knowing that you can do that much good for somebody else, I can’t think of anything better to do with my time,” said Hoggard.