Voice of the Leader Dog Community: Amy Schupska

. On the left is a black Labrador retriever lying down, looking forward and wearing a red bow on its collar with a sign that says "You're My Person" with hearts on it in front of the dog.

Hi! My name is Amy Schupska. My husband of 18 years, Andy, and I have raised 14 Leader Dog puppies. We live in Michigan near Lansing. We are currently raising Monroe, an 8-month-old male lab and golden retriever mix. I own a pet care business in my town and am also an artist.

I’ve been a puppy counselor for six years. A puppy counselor is a puppy raiser who volunteers to head up a group of puppy raisers. Puppy counselors support raisers by answering questions, and planning outings and training opportunities. I started off as the counselor for the Michigan and Ohio Independent Puppy Raiser Group for about 5 years. Because the group doesn’t live close to each other, we primarily communicated through emails and I even visited a few of them. Two years ago, I achieved my goal of becoming a local puppy counselor when I was asked to head the Michigan State University/East Lansing Group. While I enjoyed being the puppy counselor of the independent group, I really enjoy being more hands on and in person with the MSU group.

A line of people each with their own dog standing in front of some tall yellow flowers with trees in the background.I enjoy coming up with a variety of locations and experiences for the raisers and their puppies. Some of the outings include places such as the movies, baseball games, a horse farm, cider mill, going out to dinner, or even just meeting at the mall. The different locations provide a large variety of experiences for the puppies such as different surfaces for them to walk on, new things to see and smell, and sometimes even different noises. It’s crucial that Leader Dog candidates are acclimated to these types of experiences.

One of the areas of concern for raisers is when a dog is career changed. This means that the dog is not suitable to be a guide either because of a health concern or a behavioral reason. Sometimes the dogs will go into “alternative careers” such as courtroom therapy dogs for children, drug detection, an ambassador for Leader Dog, service dog, etc. Since only 11% of career changed dogs will go into alternative careers, a lot will go home to their raisers or be adopted out by the public.

A black Labrador retriever lying on the ground wearing a red bandana with a paw print that has the American flag stars and stripes inside of it.Raisers often will feel like they failed their puppy if he/she is career changed for medical or behavioral reasons. I try to remind them how wonderful it is that Leader Dog listens to each dog to see if they are capable AND enjoy the work. I’m glad that they don’t try to force the dogs into jobs they don’t enjoy.

Even when a dog is career changed, I believe the year was still productive. The raiser and puppy have still been in the public eye teaching people about visual impairments and guide dogs. A lot of people don’t know how to behave around a service dog, so it’s helpful when we can talk to them about why service dogs shouldn’t be pet or distracted. Sometimes incorporating an adult or child into feeling like they are helping to train the puppy by being a distraction, etc., can make them feel like the interaction is meaningful.

I enjoy volunteering for pet therapy with my career changed golden retriever, Sally. We have been doing pet therapy for about 8 years and have completed over 275 visits. Sally and I primarily will visit the crisis unit in the Community Mental Health Center and exam relief for students at Michigan State University. Sally is phenomenal at reading a room of people and knowing who needs some extra love and attention. She will put her paw on the person or lean into them until she feels they are doing better. Sally knows me better than myself some days!

Six people, including Amy, posing for the picture with five dogs sitting near one of the people.Through Leader Dog, I’ve encountered many fantastic dogs and people. I’ve even traveled to the other side of the world to Taiwan to visit one of the dogs we raised! I’ve talked to people in the public that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. My puppy is a bridge for conversation which I believe will help them know how to interact with someone that is visually impaired with a guide dog someday. Everyone wants to feel like they belong and are included. That includes you, me, the public, and Leader Dog clients.

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