Training at Delta
Like many parents before her, Teri Ricketts continually heard the requests from her 9-year-old twin sons asking for a puppy.
The Delta College nursing instructor admitted that she, too, wanted a dog, but it wasn’t feasible with her schedule.
“I work really long hours,” Ricketts said. “And it’s not fair to put a dog in a crate and leave them at home for 10 to 12 hours a day. I didn’t want to do that.”
Ricketts teaches fundamentals, medical/surgical and leadership courses in Delta’s LPN program. Each class has 30 students and she sees them throughout their time in the program. She teaches at the main campus and at the hospital.
She is also in charge of each student’s placement for clinical practice and makes sure that they have all of their lab, clinical and theory hours.
So, when a friend called and asked if Ricketts would be willing to be a puppy raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind, she jumped at the opportunity.
“I knew I could take the dog wherever I went,” she said. “My aunt used to breed leader dogs, so I was around them my entire life. I always said that if I was going to get a dog that it was going to be for work and that it was going to be able to help people.”
Ricketts was contacted by Leader Dog and soon after brought home Queen, an 8-week-old golden retriever. Ricketts contacted her coordinator Lori Gagnon and Division Chair Don Traverse, who were both on board with Ricketts brining Queen to Delta.
“Don was a saint and made a ton a ton of phone calls over Christmas break, talked to HR representatives and got it cleared through deans and VPs,” Ricketts said. “They welcomed Queen with open arms. She’s been the hit of the college. I get a lot more visitors in my office now.”
Queen has visited Delta’s administrative wing and has made deans and vice presidents melt. She’s also made police academy cadets stand at attention in the hallway. Rickets said the cadets always ask her to come back because they claim it’s a stress reliever.
Some faculty members have asked Ricketts to bring Queen into their classrooms so that she can interact with students.
“It gives the students a mental break,” Ricketts said. “Because the nursing program can be very stressful. And, it gives (Queen) a training opportunity. It’s a win-win situation.”
Queen travels everywhere with the Ricketts’ family, just as she would as a Leader Dog. The only place Teri does not take her is the hospital.
“She’s an extension of us,” Ricketts said. “Whatever we do, she does."
In two short weeks, Ricketts and her family taught Queen the required nine commands needed for her first training evaluation. Queen passed with flying colors. She’ll have another training evaluation at 16 weeks. The family also attends mandatory monthly meetings with a Leader Dog group in Midland.
Training Queen has been second nature for Ricketts, who was a sled dog musher for 10 years and had a team of 17 Siberian Huskies.
“I’ve always missed the training aspect,” she said. “But I had no guidance when I was working with the Huskies. With Queen, I have so much guidance. It’s kind of like second nature.
Ricketts gets a weekly calendar from Leader Dog. It’s like an evaluation checklist.
“It tells you where your puppy should be, what developmental stages they’re at and what you can do to deter those developmental issues,” she said.
Ricketts and her family will raise Queen for 12 months. After that, Queen will have four more months of specialized training at Leader Dog. Then, she will spend one to two months with a client before becoming a full-fledged leader dog.
Ricketts’ sons are completely in tune with training and fully understand that they’re scheduled to return Queen to Leader Dog on December 6. Ricketts even made her sons do research on why they were getting Queen and why someone would benefit from their training.
“They took true ownership in her training and they got to see the success she had because of them,” Ricketts said. “It’s kind of interesting because instead of going to school and saying, ‘I got a new puppy,’ they go to school and say, ‘do you want to see what I can do for someone else’s eyes.’
“They don’t want her to fail. In the same breath, they get to love her like a regular puppy, too.”
Ricketts is confident that after Queen gets paired with a client, that she’ll raise another puppy. She’ll get to re-apply when Queen is 9 months old.
When Queen gets matched with a client, there’s a meet and greet with the client, the puppy raiser and the dog. Often, the client stays in contact with the puppy raiser.
So, how hard will it be for Ricketts to let Queen go after a year?
“There’s a reason behind it and that makes all the difference,” Ricketts said. “Am I going to be a bawling pile of mush? Probably.”