March 23 is National Puppy Day, established to encourage adoptions from local shelters and rescue organizations. For help with the care and training of those furry new friends, Milton resident Jennifer Arnold has written the book. Three of them, in fact.
Arnold is the founder and executive director of Canine Assistants, a nationally recognized nonprofit that raises and provides service dogs for people with disabilities. Her New York Times bestselling “Through a Dog’s Eyes:
Understanding Our Dogs by Understanding How They See the World” was turned into a 2010 PBS documentary. She has also written “In a Dog’s Heart: What Our Dogs Need, Want and Deserve – And the Gifts We Can Expect in Return,” as well as this past August’s “Love is All You Need: The Revolutionary Bond-Based Approach to Educating Your Dog.”
Dogs have been a decades-long passion for Arnold, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis as a teenager in 1980. When her physician father sought a service dog to help his daughter in a wheelchair, he encountered long waiting lists and complications, so he decided to start his own program. Tragically, weeks after the first planning meeting for Canine Assistants, Dr. Harry Arnold was struck by a vehicle while walking and killed. It would take Arnold and her mother, Margaret, another 11 years to incorporate Canine Assistants, and their first three service dogs were placed the following fall.
Twenty-six years later, Canine Assistants has provided over 1,500 dogs to children and adults with physical disabilities, seizure conditions or other special needs, and it is still a family affair. Arnold’s husband, Kent Bruner, is staff veterinarian. Her brother, Gary Arnold, is CFO. A nephew, Dudley, works at the nonprofit’s 18-acre farm in Milton, where son Chase also helps.
As a testament to its success, Canine Assistants has a waiting list of over 1,600, though placements are needs-based and all applications are encouraged at canineassistants.org. In discussing her books and business, Arnold offered tips for anyone planning to acquire a pet – whether a service dog or a family pooch.
Your most recent book, “Love is All You Need,” stresses the importance of developing unconditional bonds between dogs and owners. What do you wish all dog owners understood?
“The love our dogs show us, obvious and without condition, is what I wish people would give their dogs in return. When dogs feel securely loved, they learn to behave appropriately with little effort on our part.
“In my 26 years with Canine Assistants, I have realized that obedience is not what makes a great dog. Caring and collaboration is.”
Tell us about Canine Assistants.
“Our mission at Canine Assistants is to educate people and dogs so they may enhance the lives of one another. We specialize in service dogs for people who have mobility difficulties, type 1 diabetes, epilepsy as well as dogs for pediatric facilities.”
Canine Assistants owes its beginnings to your own need for a service dog as a teenager. After two-and-a-half-years in a wheelchair, you slowly became able to walk again. How did your experience shape today’s Canine Assistants?
“I’ve felt the guilt of having to constantly ask other people for help doing even the simplest things. I’ve lived with the isolation that comes from feeling different. I have experienced the terror of being left alone, even momentarily, when so very vulnerable. I know that, through our dogs, we can make life better.
“But it isn’t just me and my experience that shapes Canine Assistants. Staffs and volunteers alike share the desire to make a difference. And they succeed! When people leave here, they leave with more than an amazing dog – they leave with the love and support of everyone at Canine Assistants.”
All three of your books seem particularly timely for National Puppy Day, an initiative focusing on orphaned puppies. Since some Canine Assistants dogs are adopted from shelters and rescue programs, do you have any advice for families adopting this month?
“I’d love to encourage anyone considering adopting a puppy to read “Love is All You Need” before doing so. How you make a dog feel, especially a dog from a shelter or rescue, is the single most important part of being a great pet parent. Secure dogs are good dogs.”
How can local residents help Canine Assistants?
“We use local volunteers to help us in many ways including educating and socializing our dogs. An application to volunteer can be found on our website at canineassistants.org.” ■