May 27, 2014
A car accident in 2002 changed Jason Coleman's life in an instant. He was left paralyzed from the waist down and uncertain about his independence. But in 2012 he was matched with Jib, a trained service dog and his fears were erased.
"It just gave me the confidence that I'm definitely going to be able to handle anything," Coleman said.
Jib was trained in Charlottesville by Service Dogs of Virginia.
Before the dogs go through advanced training to help people with more difficult tasks, the dogs spend the first year of their lives with a puppy raiser, from whom they learn the basics of being a good service dog.
"It's one of the most rewarding things I have ever done," said Linda Morris, a trainer at Service Dogs of Virginia.
Morris’ son has a service dog, so she knows firsthand how these dogs can change the lives of people with disabilities.
"I get to see the other side since my son is a client also, I can see how much independence Polar gives him."
Service Dogs of Virginia is in need of puppy raisers. Puppy raisers attend weekly training classes covering everything from basic obedience to learning how to behave in public. They are crucial to the work done at Service Dogs of Virginia because, "without volunteers doing that we would not be able to do what we do," says Morris.
The only requirement for puppy raisers is they need a fenced yard, other than that the cost little to nothing. Peggy Law, Executive Director, says puppy raisers invest a lot of time but, "they don't have to expend any money, we pay for the dog food, we pay for the vet care, what we need puppy raisers to do is provide the love."
People with service dogs say they are more than man's best friend. They provide hope in very difficult situations.