Twin Lakes couple volunteer to raise service, facility dogs


In this annual season of reflection on gratitude and pausing to give thanks, four disabled people around the Midwest are grateful this Thanksgiving for enriched lives thanks to the dedicated volunteerism of a western Kenosha County couple.

Since 2010, “dog-centric” Twin Lakes residents Catherine and Scott Rupp, retired certified public accountants with a background in taxation, have been volunteer Midwest regional puppy raisers for Santa Rosa, Calif.-based nonprofit Canine Companions, which provides free task-trained service dogs to assist people with disabilities in living their lives to the fullest.

“We like having puppies around,” Scott said, praising the “lifechanging” outreach work of Canine Companions. “The people are outstanding. They’re focused on providing people with disabilities a solution.”

The Rupps, Illinois natives, retired to Twin Lakes in 2019.

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Scott said the organization is fully self-breeding thanks to a cadre of 300 breeders nationwide raising “super calm, super chill” dogs meeting Canine Companions’ exacting specifications for its service and facility dogs.

Among 1,000 Canine Companion puppy raisers nationwide, the Rupps earlier this month said farewell to their eighth Canine Companion puppy, 15-month-old Oshi, now in professional training in Ohio, and concurrently welcomed their ninth Canine Companions puppy, Tundra V, a California-bred eight-week-old puppy they will turn in for professional training at Ohio in February 2024.

Following successful completion of professional training, Oshi is on track for Service Team placement in May as a service or facility dog within Canine Companion’s 14-state North Central Region, which includes Wisconsin and Illinois.

“My husband and I have been volunteer puppy raisers since 2010,” Catherine said. “We’re so enthralled with the mission and organization. The puppies arrive to us at eight weeks old and stay with us until they are about 18 months old. We are responsible for training and socializing the puppies. We are responsible for the financial costs of food, vet bills and formal training of the puppies. We are required to take them to formal puppy and obedience training for the entire time we have them. We teach the puppies 30 commands and they will know 45-50 by the end of their training. One of the fun things we get to do as puppy raisers is meet new people when we have our puppies out in public, tell them about our puppy and the Canine Companions organization. Everyone we have met has been excited to interact with us and meet all of our puppies.”

Oshi, a Lab/Golden crossbreed, was a frequent companion with the Rupps on trips to Walmart, and with Catherine from March to October for meetings of the Lake Geneva Women’s Club, which gave Oshi a going-away party.

The Rupps also made some 40 Canine Companions outreach presentations with Oshi in a variety of venues, including appearances at the weekly Lake Geneva Farmers Market and numerous presentations to service groups, clubs and organizations as far afield as Sheboygan, Pewaukee and New Glarus.

“Oshi came to us when he was eight weeks old and now we’re turning him over to the professional staff to continue his training,” Catherine said. “We’re very excited to see where he ends up … He has a beautiful temperament … Hopefully next spring he will get placed with somebody and continue his life in service helping that person.”

Four of seven puppies raised by the Rupps prior to Oshi have been placed into service.

Rufus was placed in Eau Claire to serve a client with muscular dystrophy. Marlow was placed with a Michigan client with cerebral palsy. Johnny was placed with a Vietnam veteran in Des Plaines, Ill. And Flanagan was placed in Columbus, Ohio with a paraplegic who works as an engineer at Honda’s Marysville, Ohio auto manufacturing plant, where Flanagan has his own Honda work ID badge.

Three of the dogs raised by the Rupps did not meet Canine Companions’ stringent standards and were released from the program, Greta for fear issues and Finch medically for hip dysplasia.

Gonzo, a nine-year-old Lab/Golden cross who was released from the Canine Companions program for an independent spirit, found a forever home with the Rupps, joining a household that today includes puppy-in-training Tundra V, 2-1/2 year old Aussie Shepherd Sheldon, and 18-year-old Hurricane Katrina rescue cat Bayou.

“Quirky things are deal-breakers,” Scott said of the presenting behavioral issues that removed Greta and Gonzo from the program.

If a puppy is released from the Canine Companions program, its puppy raiser has first dibs to take the puppy back. If the puppy raiser does not take the puppy, it is placed in a pre-qualified home of a volunteer, donor or someone else associated with the organization.

National reach

Leading the service dog industry with the support of more than 4,700 volunteers, Canine Companions dogs have been placed in all 50 states. Active-duty Canine Companion service and facility dogs make some 5.2 million interactions annually.

Founded in 1975 and today the oldest and largest provider of service dogs in the country, Canine Companions empowers children, adults and veterans with disabilities to live with greater independence through partnerships with expertly-trained service dogs and a lifetime of follow-up services.

Canine Companion adult service dogs work for an average of 8-10 years, with retired and released dogs living the life of leisure with retired caretakers.

Over its 47-year history, more than 7,000 service and facility dogs have been placed by Canine Companions, including more than 500 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fully 98% of Canine Companion dog placements are successful.

Adults with physical disabilities or deafness are partnered with service dogs trained to help with daily tasks or alert them to important sounds to increase their independence.

Children with disabilities working with the assistance of an adult facilitator are partnered with service dogs to enhance their independence and confidence.

Veterans with physical disabilities, hearing loss or post-traumatic stress disorder are matched with service dogs to gain independence and peace of mind through specific tasks.

And professional working in health care, criminal justice or school settings are paired with task-trained facility dogs to improve clinical outcomes.

Among the many volunteers making the magic happen for Canine Companions and its clients are a corps of 1,000 puppy raisers across the U.S. like the Rupps, who love and care for specially-bred Labrador, Golden Retriever and Lab/Golden puppies. The puppy raisers provide careful socialization and real life, formative experiences to prepare the dogs for their future as a working service dog. Puppy raisers must be over 18 years of age, although minors may work with an adult who will serve as the primary puppy raiser for the dog.

The period of 2-16 months of age is an essential period of development for the dogs, with puppy raisers introducing puppies to a variety of people, places and situations and overseeing general obedience training. At 16 months, Canine Companions puppies return to the organization for professional training at one of five regional training centers in California, Texas, Ohio, Florida and New York, where the dogs learn specific tasks to assist people with disabilities.

Catherine said Canine Companions’ total investment in the dogs is some $30,000. The dogs, which remain the property of Canine Companions, are placed free of charge with lifetime support to the Service Teams.

“A very rewarding experience”

Canine Companions’ New Albany, Ohio-based North Central Regional Training Center, established in 1987, serves 14 states including Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and parts of Pennsylvania west of Pittsburgh. The North Central Regional Training Center also serves graduate teams living in eastern Canada.

“When our phase of the training is finished, we return the puppies to our regional center in Ohio, where the professional staff takes over, finishes the training and places the dogs,” Catherine said, noting service dogs are placed with those facing 60-plus disabilities other than blindness, including hearing issues, autism and PTSD. “When our puppy is matched, we are notified and on the very last day of Team Training we are invited to a formal graduation ceremony. On graduation day we get to visit with our puppy and meet its new family. During the graduation ceremony, each recipient is introduced to the audience and the puppy raisers present their puppies, now service dogs, to their new persons by handing over the leashes to them. It is a very, very emotional experience, as you can imagine. A lot of happy tears are shed that day to all who attend the event.”

Volunteers needed

Catherine said there are several ways people can be involved with Canine Companions’ North Central Region, which includes Wisconsin and Illinois.

“We are in need of people to be puppy raisers,” she said, noting there are only a “handful” in Wisconsin at present. “Puppies raisers can have their own pet dogs, cats, etcetera … Unfortunately, we’re a very well-kept secret.”

More information is available online at canine.org/get-involved.

“We also need help from people, non-puppy raisers, to pick-up our puppies at O’Hare Airport, foster them for 1-2 days, and coordinate drop-off to either their puppy raiser or a private pilot who will transport them to puppy raisers out of our area,” Catherine added. “We are also in need of private pilots to transport the puppies from this area to nearby Midwestern states. Since COVID, only two of the major airlines are shipping live animals, and they are shipping only to major airports. We have built a network of private pilots around the country and need more pilots to help our expansive North Central Region.”

Catherine, who serves on Canine Companions’ North Central Region Outreach Committee and Great Lakes Volunteer Chapter Leadership Team, said assistance in supporting the mission of Canine Companions is needed in other areas as well.

“Since we are a nonprofit organization, fundraising opportunities, corporate sponsorships and help raising awareness is always appreciated,” she noted of Canine Companions, an accredited member of Assistance Dogs International. “I invite everyone to visit our website, canine.org, to read more about our fantastic mission and the wonderful people who gain more independence in their lives after they receive one of our service dogs.

Applicants wanted

Canine Companions is also looking to place trained service dogs in Wisconsin.

“We are looking for people to apply to receive our dogs,” Catherine said. “Currently, we have 35 active service teams in Wisconsin and we would like to place more here.”

An online application is available at canine.org.

“The lives of the recipients of our dogs are changed in ways they never expected after they receive one of our dogs,” she said. “It is a privilege and very exciting for us to be part of those transformations.”

For more information, call 1-800-572-BARK, email [email protected], visit canine.org or canine.org/raise, or call the Midwest regional Canine Companions office at 614-699-5900.

Catherine also welcomes inquiries at 312-560-4600.



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