Tuesday, July 2, 2013

St Francis Service Dogs

Since several people have asked, I wanted to
St Francis logo on Piper's service vest.
explain a little about St Francis Service Dogs of Roanoke, VA. St Francis is the largest service dog organization in Virginia, established in 1996. As a non-profit school their mission is to partner professionally trained dogs with adults and children with many different types of disabilities. There are 3 main programs:  service dogs, veteran dogs and facility dogs. The school serves Virginia and areas within a 3 hour drive of their facility. Located on 18 acres of what was once part of a farm, they have 11 full-time staff and their kennel houses up to 24 dogs for advanced training. Of course, I am still learning about St Francis myself!

The St Francis logo features a monk and dog silhouette.
Currently St Francis has about 7 puppy raisers who come to the school weekly for classes. In addition they have a prison program at medium security Bland Correctional Center, with presently 18 puppies. The program has been very successful, with inmates living in the honors dorm having the chance to raise a service puppy. Once a week St Francis trainers give lessons and check on the puppies' progress at the prison. Periodically the Bland puppies are cycled out for "real world" exposures. This ends up being a win-win situation for both the school and the inmates.

For me it was not an easy decision to switch from Southeastern Guide Dogs to St Francis Service Dogs. Southeastern is a top-notch organization with absolutely awesome dogs and trainers. Over the seven-plus years and 6 puppies I have raised for SEGD, I have watched their campus and programs blossom and their relations with PR's become increasingly more personal and gratifying. You cannot help but build close friendships with your fellow PR's and Area Coordinator, and I have even gotten to know several of the staff in faraway Florida. Especially I have looked forward to my visits to the SEGD Palmetto, Florida campus to pick up a new puppy, drop my dog off for In For Training Day, attend an AC conference, visit their Discovery Center, and best of all, the four times I've been invited down for Puppy Raiser Day, when you meet your dog's forever partner! At the Southeastern campus I always feel welcomed and appreciated.

However, since I live in southern Virginia, getting together with my SEGD PR group, based in North Carolina, can involve some serious logistics and driving. With St Francis I can actually visit their campus on a regular basis and work my puppy, Piper, with a trainer. Also it has been challenging and interesting to train service dog foundational skills, which lead up to tasks such as retrieving objects, learning how to open doors, and other jobs a dog performs for their partner. Some behaviors you teach the puppies are the same for both schools, but the word you use is different. So you say Here instead of Come, Park vs. Busy, Release vs. Take a Break, Load vs. In, etc. A little confusing at times! My two personal dogs have had to switch to the new vocabulary as well - they are becoming bi-lingual! 


  1. Thanks for the lesson on St. Francis! Sounds like an exceptional organization as well!
    You had me laughing about the commands. Before I moved to TN, I was going to raise for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, so after puppy sitting many times for them, Dante heard many different variations of words for the first few weeks. :-) I would raise for GEB again in a heartbeat, but I too LOVE the foundational commands we get to do with the service dog puppies.

  2. Hi Jenny, just was made aware of your blog from Frank. I am amazed at your dedication, but as a dog lover myself, I am not too surprised. Glad to hear of the inmate program. I bet this helps in their rehabilitation process greatly.
    All my best,

  3. Hi Jenny! Since I started raising for Canine Support Teams my two personal dogs are becoming bilingual too. Getting a chance to teach the Service Dog foundational skills was one of the reasons I was interested in raising a service dog vs a guide dog.

  4. Hi Colby, I look forward to reading about your adventures with your pup w CST. I am curious about CST, are they about the same size as St Francis? Thanks for visiting my blog.