A gift of service, raising 8 puppies to be service dogs; volunteers needed; STGnews Videocast

ST. GEORGE — Having expected a three-puppy litter and ending up with eight, a St. George resident is looking for volunteers to help raise her labradoodle puppies into service dogs.

Cathy Powell, founder of Loving Angel Service Dogs, has trained dogs from house pets to hunting dogs for over 50 years, and she’s still going strong.

Cathy Powell plays with some of her puppies, which will eventually be trained as service dogs, St. George, Utah, May 6, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News

Cathy Powell’s veterinarian originally estimated her dog’s litter would include three pups — a number Powell thought she would be able to train on her own — but her dog surprised her with an extra five. While she will be able to help more people, she needs much more help.

And so, Cathy Powell is looking for volunteers to be “puppy raisers,” people who can keep the dogs for six months to a year and help with basic training.

The most important thing for those who might consider helping, Cathy Powell said, is to know that they will have the dog with them pretty much everywhere they go. She is looking for puppy raisers who have energy to spend working with the dogs and have plenty of room and a fenced-off yard where the dogs can play.

One of Cathy Powell’s puppies, which will eventually be trained as a service dog, St. George, Utah, May 6, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News

Many people’s concern when thinking about helping raise a service dog is that they will become attached to the dog and then have to give it up.

“That is definitely an issue,” Cathy Powell said, “and if you didn’t have that worry, you wouldn’t be a dog lover; you wouldn’t want to be doing this. But when you go into it knowing that it’s a gift of service, then that helps.”

The service she hopes to give is to place the dogs with people who need them for a fraction of the price it usually costs, or in some cases, completely free.

Cathy Powell estimated it takes $25,000 to $50,000 to raise and train a service dog; but she is just asking those who end up getting one of her dogs to pull together $2,000 to help defray costs. There will be no charge for military veterans – with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example – who end up getting one of her dogs.

“They have given more than I could ever give back to them,” Cathy Powell said of the veterans.

Some people have wanted to help but could not commit to raising a puppy. From those who still want to help, Cathy Powell said, she is accepting donations to help pay for the costs of raising and training the dogs.

Cathy Powell’s service dog, Duffy, St. George, Utah, May 6, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News

Cathy Powell herself has a service dog: Duffy, a brown labradoodle, is the father of the eight puppies and has been Powell’s companion for three and a half years. Lucy, the litter’s mom, has been in the family since December and is leading the way for her puppies, learning basic service skills, such as closing doors.

Cathy Powell shared a story from training Lucy. When the dog could not understand what she wanted her to do, Duffy, who had been sitting in his crate, suddenly let out a loud whining noise, ran out of his crate and slammed the door.

“It was like, ‘this is what she’s wanting,’” Cathy Powell said. “It was really funny.”

As a trained service dog, Duffy helps Cathy Powell open and close doors, helps her undress, pulls her out of her chair to stand, helps her up and down the stairs on occasion and, the most helpful thing, she said, is he picks up items for her.

Cathy Powell and her service dog, Duffy, demonstrate some of his skills, St. George, Utah, May 6, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News

“I will ask people who have service dogs, ‘what’s the best thing your dog does for you?’” she said. “Almost universally, it is ‘pick up things for me,’ because it is very difficult. Especially in a wheelchair, you can feel very unstable trying to pick something up.”

While she herself is not wheelchair-bound, Duffy has helped Cathy Powell live more comfortably with rheumatoid arthritis. She can even say having arthritis has been a blessing, she said, as she can now better understand what people need from a service dog.

In her free time, Cathy Powell uses that knowledge to help train her friend Debb Johnson’s dog, Larry. Johnson got Larry about three years ago to help her with day-to-day tasks since she is permanently wheelchair-bound, having contracted polio as a baby.

Johnson said she has learned a lot from Cathy Powell about training her dog, including the importance of training Larry on a daily basis.

Cathy Powell plays with some of her puppies, which will eventually be trained as service dogs, St. George, Utah, May 6, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News

“I wasn’t real good at this before (but) you need to be training with them every single day because it keeps them sharp and excited,” Johnson said. “… Cathy (Powell) helped me to relearn and also to learn new ideas about how to have Larry working for me throughout the day and helping me – and he just is more satisfied and happy.”

Cathy Powell prefers training working dogs because they have that tendency to be more satisfied, she said, especially under her choice-based training method.

With this method, the dog has the choice to do an action. When the dog does what she wants it to do, she then either says “yes” or presses a button on a clicker the dogs learn to identify and then she treats the dog.

“So if I’m teaching him to sit, I will wait until he’s looking like he’s going to sit, and then I’ll click and then I’ll give him a treat,” Powell said. “And so then he starts thinking, what do I have to do to make her treat me? And so they start offering behaviors.”

Duffy knows this process so well, training him in a new command is quick, Cathy Powell said, but with dogs who are new to it, it takes longer.

However, “training dogs is easy. Training people is hard,” she said.

Cathy and Hoagan Powell play with one of their puppies, which will eventually be trained as a service dog, St. George, Utah, May 6, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News

Cathy Powell also spends a lot of time training people to train their dogs.

Her husband, Hoagan Powell, said, “Her biggest challenge is not training the dogs, but training me.”

While Hoagan Powell often refers to himself as the “pooper-scooper,” Cathy Powell said, she could not do this service without him.

Hoagan Powell said that although the dogs take a lot of work and have even affected their sleep schedule, they are rewarding to raise.

“The payoff is going to be really important ’cause you’re changing somebody’s life,” he said. “Plus the puppies are — they’re just heartwarming.”

Cathy Powell said that the idea of changing people’s lives is why she decided to train these dogs.

“I get choked up when I think about one of my babies really helping, you know, someone like an autistic child – and the gift that is. … Because I know what a gift Duffy is to me,” she said.

Those interested in helping the Powells or learning more about their dogs can visit lovingangelservicedogs.com.

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