Puppy Raising the NEADS Way: Support Makes the Difference

March 19, 2024

NEADS volunteer Puppy Raisers play a vital role in raising future Service Dogs by providing loving homes and crucial socialization for our dogs in training. While the joy of caring for a cuddly, playful puppy is undeniable, the challenges of puppy raising are all too real. To ease some of these challenges, NEADS offers a variety of resources and support throughout the puppy raising journey. After all, it truly takes a village to raise a Service Dog in Training, and we want to be sure our volunteers have everything they need to succeed.

The NEADS Team

The cornerstone of this support system is our team of Raiser Instructors. They offer one-on-one guidance and collaborate closely with the NEADS Trainers to ensure both Puppy Raisers and Service Dogs in Training thrive. The team includes:

  • Bailey Sullivan, Assistant Manager of Raiser Operations, brings seven years of NEADS experience and an animal behavior degree.
  • Megan Lupinski, Raiser Instructor, is a former volunteer and has been a Raiser Instructor with NEADS for 1.5 years. She also holds an animal behavior degree.
  • Jen Girardin, Raiser Instructor, was the first NEADS College Puppy Raiser while earning her animal science and psychology degree.
  • Susan Nedelman, Raiser Instructor, is a former middle school teacher and Full-Time Puppy Raiser, who provides valuable insights into setting boundaries for puppies.
  • Brooklyn McDonald, Raiser Instructor, recently adopted a puppy and is raising her alongside our Puppy Raisers to better understand their daily challenges.

Different Puppy Raiser Programs, Different Puppy Raiser Support

Our Full-Time Puppy Raisers, College Raisers, and Weekend Puppy Raisers have different roles and needs and, therefore, different support systems.

Full-Time Puppy Raisers care for our pups 24/7 in their homes from 8 weeks to about 14 months of age, navigating through several adorable yet challenging developmental stages of lab puppies. Full-Time Raiser support includes:

  • Team Raising – an option to share responsibility for the pup with another volunteer.
  • Dog Sitters – to provide flexibility. These Sitters temporarily take in puppies when their regular Puppy Raiser goes on vacation, has an emergency, or just needs a
  • Puppy Raiser Ambassadors – experienced Puppy Raisers who assist Puppy Raisers between classes with Raiser Instructors. Ambassadors also assist NEADS in recruiting new Puppy Raisers, critical to expanding our program’s reach.

Weekend Puppy Raisers take pups from 8 weeks to 2 years into their homes on weekends, reinforcing skills learned in prison through the Prison PUP Program and with NEADS trainers. They benefit from:

  • Weekend Dog Sitters – to provide flexibility for Puppy Raisers, allowing breaks or vacations without disrupting the Service Dog in Training’s home experience.
  • Weekend Puppy Raiser Council – a group of experienced Weekend Puppy Raisers who mentor new Raisers, organize classes and field trips, offer advice, and facilitate communication between NEADS and the Raisers.
  • Mentors – seasoned Puppy Raisers who offer support to new Puppy Raisers

College Puppy Raisers are students who raise a future Service Dog during the fall or spring term. The students have a built-in peer support system, consisting of student “pods” who all work closely together to help raise the puppy. These pods are made up of a principal Puppy Raiser; a Co-Raiser; and assigned Dog Sitters. Pods are further supported by a liaison from the college and a NEADS Instructor.

Support system in action. Last summer, one of our Full-Time Puppy Raisers had an incredible opportunity to visit his daughter who was doing conservation work in Africa for a month. We worked with several of our Dog Sitters to care for the Raiser’s 4-month-old Service Dog in Training. This allowed the Puppy Raiser to have a worry-free and memorable visit with his daughter. When he returned, her NEADS dog was safe, happy, and a little bigger!

NEADS Puppy Raisers are a dynamic and connected group of volunteers who are dedicated to changing lives with World Class Service Dogs. With guidance from NEADS Raiser Instructors and a robust support network, they are able to play a vital role in every NEADS dog’s journey.

Learn more about how you can help change lives by becoming a NEADS Puppy Raiser today.