LEXINGTON, S.C. (WIS) - It has been a delightful past eight weeks as we have followed the new WIS PAALS pups during the first part of their puppyhood.
PAALS, or Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services, is an organization that trains service dogs for kids and adults with physical disabilities and social needs along with veterans. After our beloved Winston graduated, now off to serve a veteran in the Upstate, we decided it was time to start with a new batch.
And déjà vu: it’s adorable, yet again. Executive Director of PAALS Jen Rogers said the team has the training of “the Ferrari of dogs” down to a system.
"We do a program starting at day three with our puppies which is called ENS or early neurological stimulation,” Rogers said. “This is the same type of handling that military working dogs go through."
PAALS momma, Sadie, gave birth to a beautiful litter of six on Black Friday in 2019.
Lucky for me, I got the assignment of the century: to follow the development of these sweet babies for their first eight weeks of life. That started with our first visit when the puppies were almost two weeks old. Their little eyes weren’t even open yet as we got to witness some of the early ENS stimulation by foster mom and retired veterinarian, Louise Burpee.
Starting week two, the puppies are blind, deaf, and unable to regulate their own body temperature until day 10. They begin to walk around day 12 and the ENS starts early.
"It's been proven over the years that if you start the specialized handling with small stressors, that the dog is more resilient when they get older and have to work in the real world,” said Rogers.
By the next time I was back with my camera at week three, the puppies’ eyes were open and we started to see little peeks of who they would become. By week three, the puppies’ eyes are open and they begin to play, chew, and interact with each other. The first little yips and barks came too!
"When they open their eyes, it's a pretty big day for them and us,” said Rogers. “You know, they can finally see where those sounds have been coming from. They can take in their environment which is pretty amazing. When their ears first start to open up and they can actually hear what we're saying and the sounds that we're making, that's a big milestone for them."
By week four, these little amoebas had become full-blown puppies. They were walking, eating, and talking. Handlers began to introduce sounds.
"We play music with fireworks, city sirens, and babies crying and jungle sounds,” said Burpee, “and we try to get them used to all sorts of different sounds."
At the beginning of the New Year, we witnessed the cutest of milestones when the puppies got outside for playtime and potty training. But as with any freedom comes more responsibility. Week six was marked by the first of puppy vaccines and a trip to the vet.
"They weren't at all shy in that place,” Burpee said. “They took their vaccines well and they were perfect patients."
As with any visit to the doctor at a young age, we know there's always a lollipop and a sticker to sweeten the deal. In this case, pup-cakes were the treat of choice.
As we round out week 7, PAALS volunteers, trainers and friends held a puppy shower to mark the next phase of these puppies' journey -- behavior testing -- in their quest to become service dogs. The next step for half of the litter will be to go to new homes across the country.
"Sending the puppies off is bittersweet,” Rogers said. “We have loved watching them grow and we love each and every puppy, but we love learning what they're going to do later on."
If you’d like to take part in the virtual shower for the pups, PAALS has set up a registry online for the puppies. You can either order straight from the registry, or you can pick up those items at an area store and drop them at PAALS headquarters in Columbia. Here’s the link to the registry.