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Service Dog Makes the Grade and Graduates

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
November 25, 2009

Kathy Mandsager, program director for Coastal Response Research Center, leads Yaeger up on stage during his graduation ceremony.

Yaeger made it.

In July 2008, puppy raiser Kathy Mandsager wasn’t sure the eight-month-old black Lab she was training to be a service dog would make the cut.

Mandsager volunteers with Canine Companions for Independence and only about 40 percent of the dogs they breed make it to graduation. Some just don’t have the temperament. They’re too timid, or too hyper.

But Yaeger pulled through. Graduation was last weekend in New York. Mandsager, program director for UNH’s Coastal Response Research Center, drove down for the ceremony.

Yaeger was matched with a woman named Mary who has multiple sclerosis and uses a scooter. The dog has learned to do such things as pick up items Mary might drop, push automatic door openers, carry and load things into her car and retrieve a telephone from any location. Eventually Mary will use a hard harness and be able to walk short distances by leaning on Yaeger for stability.

Mary and Yaeger

“Mary was thrilled as she contemplated all the things that Yaeger would give her the opportunity to do,” Mandsager said. “It was a beautiful match. I am so blessed to see CCI at work and to be a part of this organization.”

Volunteer puppy raisers get the dogs when they are eight weeks old and keep them for 18 months. After that, the dogs—black Labs, golden retrievers or a mix of the two--are returned to CCI for six more months of training before being matched with someone.
All the dogs are free.

The puppy raiser’s job is to socialize the dogs and teach them about 32 basic commands. While he was in training, Mandsager brought Yaeger to campus, and took him just about everywhere she went. 

Yaeger when he first came to Kathy Mandsager.

“I do this because it is fun and extremely rewarding. I love having a pup at my side,” Mandsager says. “I enjoy that each dog is unique; so 'training' is ever-changing (these are not robot helpers). While I do cry when my pup is turned back in for advanced training, the tears really flow when I see them matched with someone else who needs them a lot more than me.”

Even though Mandsager cries when she has to give a dog back after training, the sadness isn’t enough to stop her from doing what she loves. Yaeger is the eighth dog she has trained. And she returned from graduation with a Kenji, a nine-week-old black Lab.

“It's my way of giving back to an organization that is doing so much for people with disabilities,” she says.

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