COLUMBIA — Dewey, a sweet service dog-in-training, had finally dropped a blue toy dragon from his fuzzy jaws. He was much more interested in the dozen MU students showering him with pets and scratches.
The golden retriever puppy looked blissful.
Puppies with Purpose can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (252) 256-3111.
More information can be found on at puppieswpurpose.com.
Dewey, who wears a forest-green canvas harness over part of his wriggly body, gets lots of love like this right now. Much more will be expected of him later when he heads off to a women's prison in Vandalia, where inmates train service dogs.
If Dewey meets certain requirements, he will be assigned to someone with a special need. He will be a constant companion and assistant, able to go wherever he needs to go to help his human.
Dewey is the first dog in a new program meant to enlist MU students in the early raising of future service dogs. Puppies with Purpose was launched when Dewey arrived in Columbia in August.
Puppies with Purpose was started by veterinarian TerriAnn Tucker-Warhover, who is interested in raising service dogs. She drew her inspiration from "4 Paws for Ability," a service dog organization based in Xenia, Ohio.
"I thought, 'Why couldn't we do that at Mizzou?'" she said.
The organization was too far away to expand to Columbia, so Tucker-Warhover began researching other organizations closer to home before deciding to work with the St. Louis group, CHAMP Assistance Dogs Inc., which stands for Canine Helpers Allow More Possibilities.
Tucker-Warhover liked that the group didn't charge recipients for the service dogs and that it spent a lot of time before and after the pairing, making sure it's a good fit.
"They make sure there's a happy puppy and that the person's needs are met," she said.
After proposing a partnership to CHAMP in January, she got a positive response.
"They care for the puppies," Executive Director Pam Bolton said. "They house-train, socialize and teach the puppies basic house manners."
CHAMP Assistance Dogs' training is done through a partnership program with the Missouri Department of Corrections at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia.
The dogs live with the inmates 24/7. CHAMP trainers travel about 255 miles each week to work with the dogs and the inmates.
Puppies with Purpose expects to send Dewey to Vandalia at the end of October to begin that portion of his training, Tucker-Warhover said.
He will stay there for five to six weeks, return to Columbia for 10 weeks and then operate on a 10-week rotation between Vandalia and his home in Columbia until he is assigned to a permanent home, which usually happens at 18 to 24 months old.
Raising puppies requires many volunteers, some of which can become "puppy sitters" after proving their capability.
Those who are interested must attend meetings and events for the group in addition to meeting with Tucker-Warhover individually to prove their familiarity with the puppy manual that CHAMP developed for raising and socializing puppies, she said.
The manual includes what games can be played with the dogs, the do's and don'ts of raising a service dog, emergency medical information and housebreaking guidelines. Tucker-Warhover said that the manual is strict and that sitters have to show they know what they're doing before they can take a puppy.
Potential sitters could take care of Dewey when his "puppy raiser," Megan Warhover, is in class or has other obligations. (Tucker-Warhover is married to Missourian Executive Editor Tom Warhover, and Megan is their daughter.)
After showing they're capable puppy sitters, participants can learn to become puppy raisers, though there are volunteer positions available for people who aren't interested in directly caring for dogs.
CHAMP Assistance Dogs requires that Dewey's puppy raiser expose him to a number of new experiences, including large crowds, loud noises, other dogs, children and adults of all ages and people in uniform to prepare him to be a service dog.
As a result of these requirements, Dewey has become a presence at home Missouri football games. He travels around on a wagon while the group passes out fliers and educates people about service dogs. The organization does collect donations, but mainly performs these activities to get Dewey accustomed to different environments and experiences.
Although Dewey is the only service dog that Puppies with Purpose is raising now, Tucker-Warhover said she plans to start raising two dogs this winter and hopefully more later on.
Other options for dogs
Not every dog that begins service dog training graduates from the program. Dogs have to be physically sound, have the right temperament and have the ability to solve problems or think independently, Bolton said.
Often dogs that do not graduate from the program become a CHAMP education or therapy dog.
"Our therapy dog program is growing like crazy," Bolton said. "We would like to get more people involved and visiting more facilities."
CHAMP Assistance Dogs has a number of facilities on a waiting list for regular therapy dog visits, she said.
Occasionally, the dogs that do not graduate from the program are adopted by a family.
Dogs from CHAMP Assistance Dogs are used to educate school children about what service dogs do.
So far, the organization has given presentations to 6,000 to 8,000 people, mostly children, Bolton said. They primarily visit schools in the greater St. Louis area.
Puppies with Purpose hopes eventually to provide education to Columbia area youth as well, especially in local schools, Tucker-Warhover said.
Tucker-Warhover said pre-veterinarian, journalism and occupational therapy students are participating in the program. She thinks each will take something away from the experience.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey. Editor's note: Because this story involves the family of Missourian Executive Editor Tom Warhover, Tom was not involved in the selection, assigning or editing of the story.