Golden retriever puppies lend a helping paw to those who need assistance

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WALPOLE, Mass. - Happiness is a warm puppy according to Peanuts creator Charles Shultz.  

That’s something Pauline Hoegler knows firsthand.  

A nurse at Norwood Hospital, Hoegler spends her off time as a dog breeder and trainer at her Walpole home.  

“I married my two loves," she said. "I love puppies and breeding dogs, but I also love caring for people.”

To that end, Hoegler created Golden Opportunities for Independence.  

It’s a charitable organization that puts up dogs for adoption for people who need help, including sick children, adults with disabilities, or veterans.

Each dog is trained to meet the specific needs of the recipient.

“We fine tune training,” Hoegler said.  “As puppies, we do five core basics:  sit, stand, watch me, leave it, and downs.”

As the dogs mature, the training becomes more complicated.

“They can turn on lights with their paws. They can turn on lights with their nose,” Hoegler said.

There are currently 16 puppies at the Golden Opportunities for Independence facility.

They’ll be tested and observed to make sure they have right temperament to be a service dog. Of those 16, 10 will go on to recipients deemed most in need.

“We try to get them right in the recipient’s hands as soon as possible, to get the bond right away,” Hoegler said.

That’s just what happened for Tom and Judy Smith, and their service dog, Harley.  

Tom Smith is a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam.  

“My initial thought was I was going to apply for a service dog for myself to help with mobility issues and PTSD,” Tom Smith said. “Just about a year ago, Judy (Smith) was diagnosed with ALS, so it’s pretty clear her need became greater than mine.”

Harley is learning how to pick up items and bring them back to Judy Smith.

Service dogs like Harley also provide physical assistance, emotional support, and as important, peace of mind.

“For my own personal comfort, when I leave the house, once Harley is a little bit better trained, should Judy (Smith) have an emergency, Harley can hit the 9-1-1 button for us and get help on the way, “Tom Smith said. “I’m absolutely blown away with the intelligence.”

Unfortunately, demand exceeds supply for the puppies. But Hoegler said her level of satisfaction is at a 10 when she sees a recipient and dog bond. 

There are costs associated with the program, including food, genetic testing, veterinarians, and training.

Hoegler estimates costs can top $35,000 to train one service dog.

Hoegler asks all recipients to contribute to Golden Opportunities for Independence in some way.

For example, Tom Smith is a volunteer coordinator and Judy Smith prepares meals for the dogs.  

Contact Golden Opportunities for Independence if you are interested in donating or volunteering.

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