Name: Brenda Torres
Occupation: Administrative Assistant to the VP for Student Affairs & VP for Student Success at Assumption University
Prison: Concord Medium
Current Pup: Sully – 18 months
How long have you been a Weekend Puppy Raiser and how many dogs have you raised? (Include furloughed dogs and the one you are currently raising).
I became a weekend puppy raiser in 2013 and have just finished raising my 6th dog, a black lab named Sully. I’ve worked with pups out of several prisons including Gardner, Devens, Concord Farm and the Medium.
What led you to Weekend Puppy Raising?
A long and gradual road… I started out volunteering for NEADS in the 90s by helping in the main kennel with cleanup, feeding, and playtime supervision. Eventually, I started doing weekend puppy sitting for young puppies in the NEADS Early Learning Center. From there I eventually decided to become a Weekend Puppy Raiser in the prison program.
What advice would you give to a new Weekend Raiser?
Savor the journey! Every puppy raiser gets that most frequently asked question: “HOW can you give them up in the end? I could never do it!” Thinking I couldn’t do it was what held me back for so long, but the reality is this: once you’ve helped raise a service dog, you gain a sense for what an immense privilege it is to journey alongside your service dog in training towards the ultimate goal of them being matched with their new person and graduating. The difficulty of saying goodbye pales in comparison to the joys you gathered along the way and knowing that the dog is moving on to fulfill their purpose and change someone’s world for the better.
Are you a listener or a talker?
If you had one extra hour of free time a day, what would you do with it?
Grab my camera and hit one of the many trails in Princeton – the woods are my solace.
Would you rather be able to speak all foreign languages or talk to animals?
Duh. Talk to animals — they’re the best listeners.
What is the funniest or most memorable moment during COVID with or without your Service Dog in Training?
My family will always lovingly refer to Sully as our Covid quarantine buddy. My husband and I picked him up from prison on short notice on a Saturday morning in April, and suddenly I went from Weekend Puppy Raiser to Full-Time Puppy Raiser. Little did we know that Sully would stay with us for 9 long months, which meant we cautiously eased him back into public field trips in June when the initial lockdown restrictions eased, and then he started traveling to work with me 2 days a week when I was able to return to my campus office in early July.
Sully become the best office mate I’ve ever had, but I’ll never forget the way faces lit up when he accompanied me to the campus testing center so I could complete my twice weekly Covid test. The staff in our campus test center are truly our very own frontline workers, ensuring that thousands of students and employees completed safe and reliable Covid tests on a weekly basis. Sully would prance into the center with me twice a week and quickly settle into a relaxed down beside me at each of the various stations for check in, test completion, and check out. Initial curious questions from the test center staff during our first few visits eventually transformed into bright eyes of recognition and smiles behind masks (“Sully’s here!”) as the months rolled on.
Taking Sully to work with me held myriad benefits for his socialization skills, but in return, he was a priceless ambassador and educator for NEADS.
Tell us your favorite part about being a Weekend Puppy Raiser or your favorite memory with one of the NEADS pups.
Knowing that I’m a valued part of the big picture: NEADS is an incredible organization, with the most talented and supportive staff – never has that been more apparent than throughout this past year. Knowing that I’m contributing to their mission in some small way is what gives me purpose and keeps me “all in.”