While Diana Adamson and Paul Oberhaus enjoy a late lunch at the Eagan Panera Bakery-Cafe, Barclay, tired out from a morning of ‘working’ at the Mall of America, napped in a swath of winter sunshine at their feet.
Barclay, a 14-month-old yellow lab, is an assistance dog in training.
Adamson and Oberhaus are one of three Eagan husband-and-wife teams who are volunteer puppy raisers for Can Do Canines.
Couples Mike Ferber and Betty Otto, Kathy Grant and Bill Beddie, along with Adamson and Oberhaus have collectively housed and trained over 30 puppies over the span of eight years.
Ferber first became acquainted with Can Do Canines when he was contracted to do some fundraising for the organization.
Executive Director Al Peters kept telling Ferber he should become a puppy raiser, but Otto said she would do it "only if the dog was a black, standard poodle,” the type of dog she had as a child.
Since service dogs are often either golden or labrador retrievers, when Peters came up with a black, standard poodle for them to raise they laughingly had to say yes. That was eight years ago and, including dogs they fostered, they have had 18 - 20 dogs in-and-out of their home.
Murray, their ninth puppy raising dog, also is a standard poodle.
Adamson and Oberhaus got into puppy raising when their own dog was 12-years-old. Actually, it was Adamson who first took on the project but from the first dog on Oberhaus was an equal partner.
Adamson was drawn to the program because she thought a puppy would keep their aging dog young and, once that dog died, she didn't want to commit another 12 to 14 years to a new dog.
Barclay, their 14th dog, was named by employees at the Minneapolis branch of UK-based Barclays Bank through Can Do Canine's name-a-puppy program, which gives naming rights in exchange for a donation.
Barclay is the third puppy the bank has sponsored and named.
For Grant and Beddie, frequent trips to cat shows for their cat breeding business prevented them from having a dog. When they saw an ad for puppy raisers, and realized that they could take a service dog with them on the road, they decided to give it a try.
That was in 2002. Ole, a frisky, 13-month-old golden retriever is their eighth dog.
On the same day the couples turn in a trained dog, which will be matched with a waiting recipient, they are generally going home with a new puppy.
That helps ease the pain of parting with a dog that has been a member of the family for up to two years. According to Otto, "They give you a new one so quickly you don't have a chance to even think about it."
Not that the reality of eventually relinquishing the dog would ever stop any of them them from continuing to raise puppies. Just like Ferber and Otto, all the couples see it as an opportunity to have a dog in their life while doing something good.
After turning in a dog puppy raisers see them again, perhaps for the last time, at graduation - complete with a doggy mortar board.
When an assistance dog is placed with a handler, they spend up to a year learning to work together as a team before they graduate from the program.
Beddie says that all it takes is for him to see the expression on the faces of the dog's new handlers and hear their stories to convince him to continue raising puppies.
Time and again, those who have received the dog talk about the "freedom the dog has given them and how much better their life is," said Grant.
Adamson concurred, saying, "When you see people at graduation it's a huge affirmation of why we do what we do."
Adamson goes on to explain that a service dog tends to make the disabled less isolated than they would be without one. People who would be reluctant to talk to a disabled person are more likely to approach them to talk about the dog.
Can Do Canines places hearing, mobility, diabetes, seizure and autism assist dogs. They also recently placed a dog with a returning Iraq War vet who suffered a brain injury.
50 percent of the dogs are rescued from shelters, others are donated by breeders.
Dogs are trained to respond to a number of commands such as “tap” which teaches them to press door opening mechanisms for wheelchair-bound owners.
It is also important to socialize the dogs. Otto takes Murray to work with her a couple days a week, as does Adamson.
Dogs are continually evaluated for temperament and physical fitness and those who are not deemed appropriate for assistance work are “career changed.”
One such career changed dog now works as a drug-sniffing dog for Washington County.
Others end up being adopted by their puppy raisers, which is the case of Connie, adopted by Ferber and Otto.
There is a constant need for trained puppies, but Ferber cautions, puppy raising, although rewarding, is hands-on, 24/7 volunteering.
Although immeasurably rewarding, puppy raisers are responsible for all food and veterinarian bills and are required to take the dog to regular obedience classes.
Other volunteers offer sporadic, short-term foster care, fundraising support, cape sewing, envelope stuffing, and staffing information booths.