Emma McClellan isn’t your typical dog-lover. Her love for them impacts people across the country in a multitude of ways. As a senior tax accountant by day, Emma raises and trains puppies in their journey to become service dogs.
“I started with my first dog in college,” Emma said. “I just googled ways to do it and found the program that all my dogs have been through.”
The Canine Companions program breeds labs, golden retrievers and mixtures of the two to become working dogs. Started in California, caretakers raise the puppies for the first eight weeks before sending them all over the country to puppy raisers like Emma.
“Then I have them for the next 14 to 16 months,” said Emma. “That time is focused a lot on socialization, and they learn about 30 commands with me.”
Emma has raised and trained three dogs, and recently received a new puppy.
“Frodo is my third dog and I have my fourth at home right now who is nine weeks old.”
When she first began to raise and train dogs, Emma said she had to learn from a 200-page manual and have weekly Zoom calls with different trainers.
“It’s not hard at all to pick up those commands to teach the dogs. You start slowly,” Emma said. “For example, the puppy I have at home – I’ve had him for a week and a half now – the only thing we’ve worked on so far is ‘sit.’”
Once Emma’s time with the dogs comes to an end, they’re sent to professional training for six to nine months before being placed with someone on the organization’s wait list. Veterans and people with various disabilities make up the list and are given these service dogs at no cost.
“In the six months of professional training, they determine which path the dog will go on,” Emma said. “My first dog graduated and went to a woman in a wheelchair, and my second one is now with a kid who uses a wheelchair.”
After recently delivering Frodo to professional training, Emma said she doesn’t know who he will end up with yet.
“Frodo is undetermined, but they send you updates every month and you get to go to the graduation and meet the person they’re given to,” said Emma. “He could go to an adult, a child or get put in the PTSD training program.”
When it comes to preparing dogs for veterans with PTSD, Emma said the training process looks a little different.
“PTSD dogs are trained in anything that a normal service dog could be trained in. They’ll open up doors, pick things up off the ground,” Emma said. “But they’re also trained in nightmare disruption, room clearing and crowd control.”
Emma said one aspect of the program that stands out to her is how many people regain their independence as a result of these dogs.
“Some veterans might be too afraid to go out into any type of crowd because they don’t know how they’re going to handle it,” said Emma. “If they get a dog they can trust that’s trained to help, they might start doing things they used to.”
Although Emma said it’s hard to say goodbye to the dogs once they move on to professional training, she doesn’t plan on stopping as a puppy raiser any time soon.
“As long as I have a job that allows me to do it, I will do it,” said Emma. “Being in a dog-friendly company at EquipmentShare is fantastic. There are always different sights and noises, which was great for Frodo.”
In the future, Emma said she would love to see more people become puppy raisers.
“It helps spread awareness and encourages more people to get involved,” Emma said. “We could even get a little puppy club going here at EquipmentShare and help raise a dog.”
As a volunteer position, anyone can apply to become a puppy raiser. Even though the role takes some dedication and sacrifice, Emma said the process and the outcome is greatly rewarding.
“It costs the same as having any other pet,” Emma said. “They’re just so fun to train, they’re such good dogs and the impact on you – knowing you’re playing a pretty big role in helping someone who needs it – is worth it.”
EquipmentShare is committed to supporting veterans after their service. One particular way is by helping them find their second calling through career opportunities at our company. Veterans are purpose-driven, hardworking and willing to contribute to the greater good. They have strong personal integrity and the ability to abide by a code of ethics, aligning them perfectly with EquipmentShare’s Core Values.
EquipmentShare also partners and supports other organizations that provide training and shelter for veterans transitioning to civil employment. In honor of Veteran’s Day 2020, employees raised $20,000 to support both Hire Heroes USA and Welcome Home, a nonprofit in Columbia, Mo., that empowers homeless and at-risk veterans in mid-Missouri to return to society as productive, self-supporting citizens.
Are you ready to find your second calling? Search current job openings here.