Updated: Jun 20, 2019
Medical Mutts, a nonprofit service dog training organization, specializing in training dogs to help with diabetes, seizures or PTSD, is looking for very special people to foster their dogs. “Our dogs need to spend times in regular homes,” explains Melissa Morris, Director of training at Medical Mutts, and in charge of the foster program. “Just like any other dogs, lounging in the sun, playing, cuddling and chasing a ball are important for their emotional health and wellbeing.”
Unlike most service dogs, the dogs trained by Medical Mutts don’t come from a breeding program. Instead, they are selected from shelters and rescues. The mission of Medical Mutts is twofold: providing quality service dogs to those who need them, but also saving dogs that have been through hard times. This means that new dogs often need time to adjust to all the changes in their life, and this is a lot easier in a home environment rather than at the training facility.
To be considered, the dogs must be friendly, confident and capable of adjusting to sudden changes in the environment. It takes many months to teach a dog to perform the 30+ behaviors required in this line of work. For the exceptional dogs that will graduate as service dogs, this is a chance for a fantastic life: an opportunity to be matched with a person who will rely on them, love them and never surrender them again. They will go everywhere with their person and develop a special partnership of mutual respect and care.
Getting the exceptional dogs for their program is tedious and costly in time and resources. To find the dogs that meet the right temperament standards, Medical Mutts only takes dogs between 1 and 2 years old. Any younger and the dog is likely to go through behavior changes that could compromise its chances as a service dog. Any older and the dog won’t have many years to help someone. Each dog is thoroughly tested at the shelter and very few pass the test. Once out of the shelter, the select dogs go through an additional 8 weeks assessment period to make sure they can do the job and are of optimal health. The dogs are of mixed breeds and sizes, but most are 45-60 lbs.
Foster homes are critical to the success of the service dog candidates. As they come out of the shelter, the dogs are given time to adjust to their new life with one on one attention and care. Foster families help assess the dogs and provide critical information about the dogs to the trainers. Additionally, as the dogs start their training, they can often benefit from a break in the training and a weekend in a familiar home. If for some reason the dogs don’t make it through the program, spending time in a foster home could also make the wait for an adoptive family much easier. The trainers at Medical Mutts work hard to provide a friendly and positive environment to the dogs, but even then, a training facility can’t compare to a loving home environment.
Fostering a service dog candidate is a rewarding opportunity to those with a big heart for dogs. The goal for these dogs is to learn how to be well behaved and responsive. The dogs come out of the shelters and rescues with different backgrounds and experiences and often don’t even know how to sit when asked or walk on a leash. From assessing the dogs to taking them out in public, Medical Mutts offers a range of learning opportunities to the volunteers who are interested in dog behavior and training.
Saving dogs that might one day save a life is a true mission of the heart and a chance to make a difference in the lives of both the dogs and the people with a disability. If you’re in the Indianapolis area and are interested in becoming a foster for Medical Mutts, visit https://www.medicalmutts.org/volunteer.