Emily Schoen took a semester-long break from the University of Kentucky, where she is studying special education and psychology, to take on a project here in Sag Harbor. Ms. Schoen signed on as a volunteer with Canine Companions for Independence to raise a puppy that will eventually become a service dog for someone in need. She explained the process — and introduced Larkin, the pup — in a recent interview.
First of all, let’s talk about dogs in general.
Oh gosh, I am definitely a dog person through and through. There really is nothing more heartwarming than waking up and seeing Larkin in his kennel all excited to see me in the morning. It’s such a fun job to get to see him grow up and figure out new things and see the excitement on his face when he masters a new command.
What inspired you to want to raise a future service dog?
When I was little, my parents did the Guide Dog Foundation, and that definitely started it for me. I figured out that dogs were definitely a passion and that I could do something with my love for dogs. At the University of Kentucky I joined an org called Wildcat Service Dogs, which is another service dog organization. When I came home I took a semester off and decided to join Canine Companions for Independence and raise my own.
What goes into raising and training a service dog?
It’s not only teaching them commands but it’s also teaching them to love and how to have house manners, how to act in public and basic dog skills. But it’s also having fun. It’s a very, very fun journey and adventure having a puppy.
What benefits are you personally getting out of raising a future service dog?
The fact that I get to make a difference in someone else’s life is definitely one of the biggest benefits. Having a puppy is the greatest thing, but so is getting to see them impact someone’s life and give them freedom and independence that they may not have otherwise.
Tell me about Larkin.
Larkin is six months old. He is a black Labrador-golden retriever mix. He definitely looks like a Lab but has longer hair. He loves to play, loves to make people happy and absolutely loves tennis balls and the beach. He’s just a happy-go-lucky, very, very smart puppy. He’s almost 60 pounds. He’s definitely a monster, but a very gentle giant.
I understand there are actually two future service dogs at your house right now.
Yes. My friend Sammie Kiewel does Wildcat Service Dogs. I met her at school through the organization and she decided to come home with me for the summer, so we have another pet and another friend in the house. They are different organizations. They both raise working dogs but for different tasks. His name is Memo and he is a purebred golden retriever.
What are your future hopes for Larkin?
I have so many things I want him to do. Whether he’s a facility dog, a service dog or a skilled companion, he definitely has the ability to make people smile. Larkin has four different potential outcomes, five if we include not making it, which is an option. A lot of dogs aren’t made to be service dogs, so there is the potential. If he’s a facility dog he could work in a hospital or a place of education full-time. Or he could be a service dog to help people with tasks. He could be a skilled companion, which would mean he would have a facilitator like a parent, guardian or spouse, or he could become a hearing dog, which means he would indicate someone to important noises. The broad goal is to make people smile and just be there for someone. I think he’s definitely able to make people happy.
To learn more about Canine Companions for Independence, visit cci.org or call (800) 572-BARK.