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Lyndeborough family raises puppies for a life of service

  • Kara Steere of Lyndeborough works on obedience training with Lupe, a Labrador she is raising for training as a service dog. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Kara Steere of Lyndeborough works on obedience training with Lupe, a Labrador she is raising for training as a service dog. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • The Steere family on the first day they picked up Lupe.  —Courtesy photo

  • Andrew and Avery Steere with Labrador Bernard, as they turned him in to begin service dog training.  —Courtesy photo

  • —Courtesy photo



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, September 03, 2018 4:28PM

Yellow Labrador Lupe is excited to meet a stranger, running over for a sniff and a scratch before joining her canine brother Bernard for a wrestling match in the living room. But even though she’s not even quite a year old, she knows that when her training vest goes on, it’s time to pay attention.

“Lupe, in particular, is a completely different dog when you put her vest on,” Kara Steere, Lupe’s raiser, said. “She innately knows when she’s working.”

Though she has lived with the Steere family since she was first weened from her mother, Lupe isn’t their dog. She belongs to Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that specializes in training Labradors and Golden Retrievers to be service dogs for a variety of disabilities other than blindness.

Steere first got interested in volunteering as a puppy raiser when she was in her 20s, when she saw a man in a wheelchair and a service dog while attending a University of New Hampshire hockey game. The image stuck in her mind, she said, and over the next few years, she had the opportunity to talk to some people in the service dog raising community. Eventually, she and her husband decided to take the plunge.

The Steeres’ role in Lupe’s life is to get her through her puppyhood while laying the groundwork for her future training as a service dog. For the first year and a half of her life, she will live with the Steeres, who will socialize her with the kind of every day circumstances she will run into as a service dog – taking her to the grocery store, to restaurants and crowded events so that she can acclimate to a variety of scenarios. She learns basic obedience and about 50 commands.

They also act as ambassadors and educators about service dogs – it’s rare to go anywhere with Lupe in her service-dog in training vest without getting questions about her, Steere said.

After about a year and a half of this socializing and basic obedience training, the Steeres will turn her over for what they affectionately call “puppy college” – her final stage of service dog training.

“It’s hard,” Steere said, of having to let go of the dogs that she raises. She and her husband have raised a total of six dogs, including Lupe. “And there’s no easy way around it. People are always saying to me, ‘I couldn’t give up my dog.’”

She’s able to do it, Steere said, because she knows the dog’s true purpose.

“I only want him,” she said. “Someone else out there absolutely needs him. It would be so selfish to say, ‘I don’t want to be sad,’ when someone else’s life could be absolutely transformed by this dog.”

Steere and her husband raised four dogs before taking a break to have their two children. It’s not always easy and adorable, Steere said. Though they are bred for a mellow, hard-working temperament, they are still dogs – and puppies. One of her pups came up with a time-saving move of launching himself down the bottom half of the stairs and rebounding off the wall at the landing, rather than taking the long way down, and Lupe is a chewer, and all the puppies are young enough when they first come home that it may mean a few weeks of sleepless nights and potty-training accidents.

But it’s ultimately worth it.

One of the reasons it’s so rewarding, Steere said, is she knows where those animals have ended up, and the difference they’ve made in their handlers lives.

One is a stabilization dog who was partnered with a young boy with cerebral palsy. Another is a service dog for a man in a wheelchair. A third is a facility dog at a retirement home for nuns.

The fourth didn’t adjust well to the final stage of his training, and was returned to the Steeres to be their family pet. While puppy raisers aren’t required to take on dogs that for whatever reason don’t pass the final stage of their training, they are offered the dog first.

Their current permanent pet, Bernard, is another puppy-college drop-out. Getting the call asking if they’d like to take back a dog has been a bag of mixed emotions both times, Steere said. Though they’re happy to have the dog back into their lives and home, the ultimate happy ending is to see the dog placed permanently with a handler, some who have been waiting a long time for a dog.

Now that their children are old enough, the Steeres have returned to puppy raising. Though they experience the same tears when it’s time for a dog to move on to the next phase, she thinks that overall, it’s a valuable experience for them, Steere said – and not just for the regular benefits of responsibility that any puppy would give them.

“It’s a lesson in doing something for someone else. I don’t know another way that would do it the same way,” she said.

The Steeres will be giving a presentation at the J.A. Tarbell Library in Lyndeborough, entitled “Give a Dog a Job, Change a Life,” on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. Attendees can met Bernard and Lupe, and ask questions following the presentation.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.