The staff of Cheat Lake Animal Hospital is participating in the development and implementation of an exciting new program for Morgantown. This program is based on the work of Bonita M. Bergin of the Assistance Dog Institute. Mr. Rick Yount a social worker with the Burlington United Methodist Family Services took his training at the Institute and is a Certified Assistance Dog Trainer. This unique program blends training of the dogs by high school students for handicapped people. There is a full curriculum developed for the training. The dogs learn 90 commands and depending on their size and strength can provide many of the needs of a handicapped person.
The program works with at risk teens, teaching them to train puppies to become handicapped assistance dogs. The program teaches these young people responsibility, the importance of appropriate bonding, consistency, positive reinforcement (things that many of these children rarely experience) and empathy for the handicapped. The program will provide assistance dogs to individuals in West Virginia that would otherwise be unable to obtain an animal due to the cost of purchasing assistance dogs through conventional means. Additionally, the program provides a mechanism to rescue dogs that might otherwise be euthanized from local shelters and provide them with loving homes and important jobs. Currently there are 8 puppies being trained in the program.
The dogs began their training in February 2002. It will require over 18 months of training. Since these puppies need exposure to a variety of people, Cheat Lake Animal Hospital is hosting Puppy Petting Sessions on Tuesdays from 6:00pm – 8:00pm and on Saturdays from 10:00am to Noon. Please call prior to arriving at these sessions to be sure the pups are coming.
The puppies in training are currently housed by Mr. Yount They are transported to the Chaplin Hill Alternative Learning Center for daily training sessions Monday – Friday. The Cheat Lake Animal Hospital purchased a transport bus for this purpose.
Update as of May 14, 2004
Many of the puppies have now graduated and been placed with their new families. A two-week “boot camp” was held here in the Cheat Lake Animal Hospital’s basement, where the Goldens were matched up with their respective adoptive partners. These pairs trained together for the two week period to strengthen the bond between them and to acclimate the dog’s service to the need of the handicapped person.
A graduation ceremony was held at South Middle School on Saturday, April 24th with a reception held at Cheat Lake Animal Hospital. CONGRATULATIONS to all the Goldens, Rick Yount, and all the wonderful people that have helped with this program!
Keep posted for the arrival of new Golden Retriever puppies and the return of the infamous Puppy-Petting Sessions!
Bonnie Bergin with Jade