Early mornings, late nights, excitement mixed with anxiety, lots of cuddling, and unauthorized puppy parties are just some of the things that Jocelyn and Marie experienced during their first 5 months as breeders caretakers for PADS’ Roma and her “Beatles Litter”. Their passion for labradors, social work, and their friend’s enthusiasm about the organization made PADS an obvious choice to volunteer for.

What is remarkable about Jocelyn and Marie is that they came to a volunteer info session, and immediately signed up and without exception asked “where do you need us?” When our team expressed that our greatest need was for breeder caretakers, homes that would commit to a breeding dog throughout her working life, they literally LEAPT at the opportunity. They made this very special commitment to Roma, and welcomed her into their hearts and home.

They had never whelped puppies before, or cared for them, or even attended a puppy-class yet. But they dove in, to what is arguably the most intense volunteer commitment in our organization, one that is 24/7 and sometimes the sleepless nights begin to seem like 8 days a week. They would with the support of PADS staff whelp, rear and care for Roma and her puppies during their first 8 weeks of life. Jocelyn and Marie were really excited about the opportunity to be alongside Roma—a 2 year old Labrador from Guide Dogs for the Blind raised at PADS in Calgary by the Edgar Family —and help deliver the puppies that will someday transform the lives of people with disabilities. They put the DO in LOVE ME DO!

As Roma’s due date neared, anxiety rose: “We had a lot of anxiety all of the sudden because that was our first time so we learned to trust and rely on Jackie (PADS Breeding Manager). She is just an unbelievable person and the people that work for PADS are incredibly committed. They really followed through on being there for us.” Learning to look after the puppies and the mom was essential, as well as setting up the home so it is a successful environment for the pups to development. After the puppies were born, the fun and work began: caring for and cuddling the tiny pups. Roma is a bit of a “clown” so it wasn’t surprising that the puppies made Jocelyn and Marie laugh constantly. Beyond laughs, Jocelyn and Marie were amazed how smart some of the puppies are, sometimes too smart for their own good: “one morning we were still in bed because it was 4:45 in the morning and the puppies were crying and whining… sometimes you just wait a little bit because they quiet down and you’ll get an extra half an hour of sleep. So we stayed in bed but suddenly the whining all stopped at once and we thought we could go back to sleep. But then after a few minutes we decided it was actually too quiet. We went downstairs to check on them. It turned out that Lennon—one of the puppies—had figured out how to open the gate, so we found the puppies having a great party in the living room!” Life is never boring with a bunch of cute little puppies around.

There were challenges and a learning curve; the older they get, the more energy they have and the more cleaning there is to do, but in spite of this, Jocelyn and Marie say that this is a very rewarding experience that gives you the opportunity to meet a lot of amazing PADS’ employees and volunteers, working together towards a common goal. You also get to see the puppies grow up and be very successful.

When asked what they would say to people considering being breeder caretakers they replied enthusiastically: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help, no matter how amazing or independent you think you are, you are going to need help and trust the people at PADS… AND the whole experience is extremely rewarding! One of the most important things is that we have to take our cues from the PADS dog – from the pregnant mom. They are unbelievable! If you really pay attention to the mom you’ll know what you need to do. Nature is incredibly powerful and one of the things we were so amazed with was watching Roma do all of these things for the first time and yet it seemed like she had done it a million times before.”