Dogs are evaluated and tested for physical and behavioral fitness. Temperament tests, health evaluations, and genetics are consulted when breeding decisions are made. A service dog at a Pennsylvania program may be bred with a guide dog from a school in Florida. The resulting litter may be whelped with a service dog program in Kansas. The puppies are distributed to member organizations according to a complicated algorithm that takes into account the program’s participation in the creation of the litter as well as other factors. The advantage of the Cooperative is that the dogs are bred from assistance dog stock and are evaluated using a common language and system of testing across all the participating programs. It also ensures diversity in a program’s incoming puppy class, since it is possible to receive puppies from different parents that are similar in age. Our third source of dogs is shelters and rescue organizations. While we would love to flood our program with puppies in need of homes, it takes a special dog to be a service dog. We screen puppies from rescues and shelters to see whether they have developed fears that will
haunt them or health issues that will trouble them in adulthood. Those dogs are not prepared for the work of a service dog and asking to them to serve in that role would be unfair and unkind. Another non-profit organization - Diamonds in the Rough www.diamondsintheruffvirginia. org - combs shelters and rescues to look for dogs that may fit the bill and enjoy the life of a service dog. When they find one, we add them happily to the ranks and they are often the kindest and funniest of them all. Wherever our puppies come from, they are the heart and soul of Saint Francis. Full of equal parts promise and mischief, they are the building blocks of all that we do. Without the generosity of breeders, the community of the ABC Breeding Cooperative, and the organizations scouting for dogs in shelters, we would be unable to do our job of changing the lives of people with disabilities. These little puppies have big shoes to fill. And we treasure every single one of them.