I often struggle with how my job (I’m a public relations professional with equestrian PR agency Jump Media) makes a difference in the world as a whole. I’ve dedicated my professional life and much of my personal life to the equestrian industry, and sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture. Do I love what I do? Yes. Does it make our sport a more colorful, well-informed, publicly accessible entity? I like to think so. Does it make the world a better place? I sure hope so. I’m not battling some of the biggest issues facing our world on a professional level, but when I see an opportunity to lend a hand, I try to take it.
That was my frame of mind when I was scrolling through my Facebook feed on yet another uneventful night of quarantine in March. I’d just returned to New York from Wellington, Florida, a month earlier than planned thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and was stuck inside the walls of my house for what turned out to be two months of lockdown. I saw a photo from the Babington Mills page of a fluffy, chunky, Australian Shepherd puppy. Being an Aussie owner and a glutton for their charm, I paused to read the post.
It read: “BE A PART OF KEVIN’S JOURNEY! Canine Support Teams is looking for an exceptional volunteer Puppy Raiser to raise and socialize an Australian Shepherd puppy to be a future service dog for Kevin Babington.”
Kevin Babington is an Irish Olympian who sustained a severe spinal cord injury following a fall last year, and they were looking for someone who could introduce the puppy to horse-related activities as well as the normal socialization that goes into a service dog.
I figured, “Why not?” and filled out the application. After a week of email exchanges with CST’s puppy raiser instructor, I was selected to raise Kevin’s service dog. Still reeling over the idea of a puppy on its way to me and the pressure that brought with it, I shared the news with my husband who had little faith I would be selected. Frankly, I wasn’t holding out much hope either considering we live on the opposite end of the country from CST, and I had never been a puppy raiser before. But, my experience with Aussies and my ability to socialize the puppy around horses sealed the deal.
Keeping Panic Level Low
Samantha—as Kevin named her—was donated to CST by Mona Oller Brake of Clear Creek Australian Shepherds in Willard, Missouri, specifically to be his service dog. That process includes a puppy raiser beginning the training, socializing the dog, and caring for it during the first 18 months of its life. The CST puppy will then go to Menifee, California, where CST will conduct advanced training before delivering the dog to its handler.
It’s uncommon for a CST puppy to already be designated for a specific person while it’s still with its puppy raiser, but Kevin’s situation is special thanks to Mona’s generosity. That being said….hello, pressure! Whenever she puts a paw wrong, my immediate thought is, “I just ruined Kevin Babington’s service dog.” I know everyone brags about their puppies, but in all honesty, this dog rarely puts a paw wrong, so my panic attacks are minimal.
After battling COVID-19 airline schedules, I met Samantha at LaGuardia Airport (New York) earlier this summer. She was so tiny and a little scared, but she was also the cutest thing I’d laid eyes on in a long time. The night before, I read CST’s puppy raiser manual cover to cover—twice. There’s a rainbow of sticky notes attached to it, and my highlighters got a workout. The whole time I was thinking, “I CAN’T screw this up!”
How Will You Do It?
The most common question I get asked when people find out that I’m raising a service dog puppy is: “How are you going to have a dog as your own for 18 months and then give it up?” This was actually the easiest question for me to answer when I found out I was approved.
My response is simple: because Kevin. Every time I look at her, I think of him. When she does something right, when she does something wrong, and during all the moments in between, I think of him. In my own small way, I’m giving something back to a man, a family and an industry. With all that Kevin and his wife Dianna have to deal with in the coming years, the least I can do is this small gesture to ease the pressure of Kevin’s accident and the journey he and his family are currently on.
I’m so excited to share “Raising Samantha” with COTH readers. Next time, I’ll tell you what it’s like to cross the George Washington Bridge while a puppy tries to make a vehicle escape. Follow along with us and get weekly updates on her Instagram, @raisingsamantha.
Lindsay Brock hails from the mountains of the Adirondack Park in upstate New York and started developing a passion for all things equine the moment she first formed the word “horse.” She graduated from Houghton College (New York), where she also served as the president of the Houghton College Equestrian Society and competed on its hunter/jumper and eventing teams. Upon graduation, Lindsay worked at The Hollywood Reporter and Carol Mann Agency in New York City before spending four years as public relations and social media manager for HITS Horse Shows. Now a PR pro with Jump Media, she’s a full-time writer, photographer and content creator while being a part-time rider, environmentalist and yogi.
You can follow Samantha’s journey on Instagram @raisingsamantha.