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Bernadette Brings Service Dog Skills to NECHV

In January, Bernadette, a Labrador/Great Pyrenees mix, and Pee Wee, a Pit Bull mix, toured the NECHV, bringing with them their human friends from Heroes, Horses and Hounds and Animal Rescue Konnection (ARK). The purpose of the visit was to explore the possibility of bringing a service dog to the NECHV, and to see if either dog might be a good fit. We are excited to announce that Bernadette joined the Center in February!

Heroes, Horses and Hounds rescues horses and dogs in need of new homes and retrains them as service animals, who are then placed with either a person in need or used in animal-assisted therapy programs. ARK specializes in placing dogs with rescue organizations and progressive shelters that can help them find new homes.

It is important that a dog living and working at the Center be able to tolerate a busy environment where people are often coming and going. While both dogs were very popular with Veterans and staff as they toured the building, Bernadette was a little more at ease with all the noise and attention. Bernadette is fully trained in both mobility and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) support tasks.

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The training for a service dog is comprehensive; according to Colleen Campbell, President and Founder of Heroes, Horses and Hounds, dogs are taught basic and advanced obedience skills and undergo Canine Good Citizen training. Mobility tasks include walking step-by-step next to the person they are assisting, bracing themselves so that a person may use them to balance or to stand from a seated position, and picking things up. Dogs trained in PTSD support learn to recognize the signs of anxiety, panic, and dissociative episodes. Tasks they might perform in these situations include nudging or licking the hand of the person they are assisting to keep their mind in the present moment, leaning against or providing deep pressure to a person to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, or acting as a physical barrier between a person and others. Dogs can also be taught to inspect a room, turn on the lights, and signal that it is clear.

Such thorough training takes about 18 months for a puppy, and between six and eight months for a young adult dog. The fosters and trainers of Heroes, Horses and Hounds spend at least 300 hours with the dog in public spaces like stores, restaurants, and crowded city areas – Bernadette is truly ready for anything!

Bernadette is now the second supportive animal at the Center. She joins Sergeant Whiteshoes (Sarge), the Center’s cat, who was adopted in April 2017 from Boston’s Animal Care and Control. The NECHV extends its deepest and most sincere gratitude to Heroes, Horses and Hounds and ARK for working so diligently to find the perfect fit for the Center!

Find more photos of Bernadette here, and follow her on Instagram!

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