by Caroline Golon
When a service dog named Godrick recently joined his new family in New Jersey, hundreds of people in Virginia Beach, from senior citizens to young schoolchildren, cheered him on from afar. That’s because these people were responsible for training Godrick to be the perfect service dog for Ari, a young boy with autism.
Godrick, was part of the “Atlantic Shores/Guiding Eyes for the Blind Puppy Love Program,” one of the first programs in the nation that brings schoolkids and seniors together in a multi-generational partnership to train and socialize service dogs.
Guiding Eyes For The Blind (GEB), a nonprofit guide dog school that provides free guide dogs and lifetime support services to people with visual impairment, developed the program.
GEB relies on volunteers for the critical first step of basic obedience training and socialization for their puppies so the Puppy Love Program was a perfect fit to give Godrick the training he needed.
First Godrick was matched with the Atlantic Shores Retirement Community in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The residents and staff opened their homes and hearts to raise the pup during an important development time in his life and training as a service dog.
While there, Godrick and his caretakers were invited to local elementary schools where students eagerly provided critical socialization time. The kids who interacted with the pups received special lessons about the importance and value of service dogs.
Once Godrick’s training with the seniors and the students was complete, the pup returned to the professionals at GEB to finish his training.
It was clear that his personality and obvious love for children would make Godrick a perfect candidate for the Guiding Eyes’ Healing Autism Program, which trains special dogs to provide safety, companionship, independence, and social acceptance for children with autism.
After three years of training and special development, Godrick graduated from the program and met his new family for the first time.
Godrick and Ari bonded immediately and the dog’s impact on the family was immediate, even allowing them to take a family vacation together for the first time ever.
The Atlantic Shores’ ROMEO men’s social group is so inspired by Godrick, that they have started supporting community autism initiatives in the Virginia Beach area.