CONWAY — A 2-year-old puppy is poised to make a big difference in hundreds of children’s lives this fall. Captain, a yellow Labrador retriever, is heading to Ohio to become an assisted facility therapy dog at Greenwood Elementary School, K-6 grade elementary school with an enrollment of 540 students.
Captain, who was raised and trained by Assistance Canine Training Services, has been matched with Stephanie Moore, a school counselor at Greenwood Elementary School in Toledo, Ohio. Captain will attend school daily where he will work in a variety of capacities. Moore met her new partner on Monday and is spending this week learning Captain’s skills and honing her training abilities. On Friday, the duo will officially graduate from A.C.T.S. and then hit the road, heading to Ohio.
Captain isn’t the first A.C.T.S. dog heading to Ohio or even the first in the Toledo school district. In May 2017, Brooke, a black Labrador, was partnered with Melanie Robinson, who is a guidance counselor at Monac Elementary School in Toledo, which has an enrollment of more than 500 students.
“I know Melanie and Brooke,” Moore said during an interview at Telling Tails Training Center in Fryeburg, Maine, on Wednesday, adding that she had learned about the program from Robinson, and the two of them knew this is what they wanted in their schools after meeting with Alison Memoli, the guidance counselor at North Conway’s John H. Fuller School, who had an A.C.T.S. dog named Atticus.
A.C.T.S, now in its 11th year, graduates three to four teams each year. In all, it has graduated 26 teams with service dogs, balance dogs, hearing dogs, home helper dogs and facility therapy dogs.
Robin Crocker, chairman of the board for A.C.T.S. and currently the chief administrator and head trainer, said, “We have placed a total of 27 dogs: 10 facility dogs, eight service dogs, five balance dogs and four home helper dogs. Home helper dogs we do not do any longer. These are dogs that were skilled enough to work for people who needed them in their homes, but not suitable for various reasons for public access.”
Captain was donated by Ciarfella Labradors and Goldens of Effingham. His veterinary care was donated by Fryeburg Veterinary Hospital.
From eight weeks of age, Captain was raised and named by Shelby Packard, a recent graduate of Kennett High School and is currently teaching classes at Telling Tails and has been teaching the A+ Puppy Program for A.C.T.S. for the past three years.
“Shelby did a phenomenal job,” Crocker said. “Captain is the second puppy raised by Shelby. Her first puppy was Rye who is currently working in the (Josiah) Bartlett Elementary School with (teacher) Jen Bailey. Shelby is heading to the University of Vermont in Burlington to study animal behavior.”
“I puppy raise because A.C.T.S. is a team built up of some of the best people around,” Shelby, 18, of North Conway, said. “It is its own community of great people and dogs that all share a love for helping others. It is wonderful to be surrounded by other people who have the same passion for dogs and dog training.”
For Shelby, the most rewarding part of the program is when the puppy she helped to raise graduates.
“There is nothing better than seeing a dog you put so much time and love into finish their A.C.T.S. training and move on to have such a positive impact on other’s lives,” she said, and added, “The most difficult part is also the most rewarding part. When you have a dog for two years that you love and train with every day, it can be hard to say goodbye. What makes it easier to see them leave is the knowledge that they will be doing great work that will help a lot of people.”
Moore and her school colleagues, parents and students started the process of finding an assisted therapy dog a little over a year ago. They raised $5,300 in two months to pay for puppy expenses. A.C.T.S. dogs are sold for $4,300 after they complete training. Roughly six months ago, Moore became involved with A.C.T.S. and had been following the dogs on Facebook.
On June 17, Nan Ippolito, board member and administrative assistant in charge of client relations for A.C.T.S. “made the call” to Moore telling her they had found a match.
“Making the phone call is one of the best parts of the job,” Ippolito said. “Mary Russell (fellow trainer) was with me and at the end of our conversation, we offered her Captain.”
“Of course I accepted,” Moore said, laughing and revealed Captain had been the puppy she was hoping to be placed with all along.
“I heard the kids in the background asking is it Captain,” Ippolito added. “I think we have another great match.”
Crocker said Captain is more suitable for school work than a one-on-one service dog partnership.
“We started thinking about it when he was a little over a year and a half,” she said. “We always search for a service dog first. We looked at a couple of characteristics that were not as desirable for a service dog. With that, we start integrating the dog into a local school once a week. He loved it.”
Crocker added: “Captain is a great match for the school environment because he has been around children and loves them and because he is a worker. Shelby has taught him a very long list of tricks and skills and Stephanie has a desire to incorporate his skills into lessons and programs. Captain prefers working over just sitting around and doing nothing — something a service dog has to do a lot of. At the same time he is good at ‘turning on’ and ‘turning off.’ He is happy and quiet in his crate when it’s not time to work, but can come out at any time and will be ready to perform. Captain will be good with the children as a friend and companion and a soul that will understand no matter what. But his real skills will lie in his ability to perform a skill/trick/task that will be part of a lesson, demonstration or incentive program.”
Crocker offered an example, such as a math lesson: “The student would have an assigned number of math problems,” she said. “When complete they may do a math problem with Captain. Captain will roll the dice two times. The two numbers that come up may be added, subtracted or multiplied depending on the student.”
A.C.T.S. generally holds a graduation ceremony each spring. There are currently eight dogs, two smooth-coated collies and Labrador and golden retrievers in the program.
One thing A.C.T.S. needs is puppy raisers.
“We need to bring in another three dogs this year and can’t do that until we have raisers,” Crocker said. “We love all our raisers and hate to lose them but life events like college take precedence for sure.”
Shelby and fellow KHS graduate Paige Hill, who has been raising Denver, a black Labrador, are the most recent high school students to raise puppies for A.C.T.S.
“We’d love to have more high school puppy raisers,” Crocker said.
A.C.T.S. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. To learn more about the program, go to assistancecanine.org.