Newtown: Service Dogs Provide Life Changing Benefit

Bella, a 10-month-old Labrador Retriever, is one of six puppies currently undergoing training to become psychiatric service dogs in a pilot program created by The Exceptional Partner Service Dogs in Newtown. Bella is pictured working at school.

NEWTOWN — Noodle, a 12-week-old Labradoodle, has joined five dogs in The Exceptional Partner Service Dogs pilot program, which began in January in Newtown.

Noodle and the other dogs, 10-month-old Labrador Retriever puppies, are being trained to become psychiatric service dogs for those in need.

The mission of TEPSD is to transform lives by raising and training psychiatric service dogs to match — at no cost — with children and adults suffering from psychiatric disabilities, while engaging and educating the community of Newtown in the process.

This is done with the help of Newtown schools, teachers, students and families who are an integral part of raising and socializing the dogs as well as educating their peers about mental illness.

According to Abby Hill, founder and executive director of TEPSD, “What we do has two purposes. First, to properly prepare and train exceptional service dogs who, in two years, will go on to help make someone’s life significantly better. Second, we engage and involve the Newtown community in the program, where they learn about the job of service dogs and about people with mental illness who will depend on the dog to help them live their lives to the fullest. In the process, these kids reap the benefits of having a dog at their school every day — being a part of something truly life-changing. The educational and emotional impact has already been significant.”

Noodle was donated to TEPSD this month by Blueberry Cottage Labradoodles and, like the original five Labradors, she comes from a well-sourced, highly established service dog breeder who breeds meticulously for temperament, workability, structural soundness and health.

TEPSD puppies are exposed to early neurological stimulation that makes them ideal for this job.

“Bringing Noodle to TEPSD is a great opportunity for us because she is a hypoallergenic dog and can go into classrooms during training at schools with our teacher puppy raisers, where there may be students with severe allergies to the fur on the Labradors. We look forward to continuing to add more dogs to the program and help as many people as possible.

“Each dog costs $25,000 to raise for their first two years before being placed with their handler. With proper funding and support across the country, we want to keep expanding. Lives can be changed for the better with a service dog and there is absolutely no time to waste,” Ms. Hill added.

The first five puppies, Bella, Blue, Harry, Jake and Taco, are almost halfway through their two-year service training, while Noodle is just getting started. TEPSD aims to raise enough funding to consistently have dogs at every stage of the process.

Ms. Hill noted, “Some of the dogs are coming in to teachers’ homes and schools to be trained, and others matched with their human handler and well on their way to making someone’s life easier. And, while all of this is happening, Newtown gets to be an important part of the process. Everyone benefits.”

While the dogs are being trained and raised in Newtown, they will be equally considered for service to applicants struggling with mental illness throughout the region.

The Exceptional Partner solely depends on donations to operate.

The cost of adopting, raising, training and providing proper healthcare for service dogs for the first two years of their life prior to placement is approximately $25,000 per dog.

More information about the program is available at www.newtownservicedogs.org.

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