When Colorado residents were told to stay home on March 26, Rhonda Larance, a Global Services industry relations manager, and her husband, Brad, didn’t expect it would result in an extended house guest — a Labradoodle named Rumi.
The couple has been volunteering with Freedom Service Dogs — a nonprofit that trains service dogs for people with mobility issues and veterans, and 2018 Boeing grant partner — for four years.
“We wanted to find a way to give back,” Larance said. “And we wanted to have a dog in our life.”
The Larances began fostering Rumi on March 20. She was scheduled to be placed with a veteran in Washington in early April, but COVID-19 changed those plans. Like so many businesses, Freedom Service Dogs had to close because of the pandemic, and its leaders had to quickly find semi-permanent homes for the four-legged pupils.
Luckily the Larances had experience fostering other service dogs-in-training before and knew what to do. Their choice was an easy one.
“We wanted to ensure Rumi continued her training with us,” Larance said. “Typically when we foster, we would pick Rumi up on Fridays and return her on Mondays to do her formal training at Freedom Service Dogs. Now she’ll be with us until Freedom can reopen.”
Because Rumi will be placed with a veteran with PTSD, she needs to develop specific skills, so the Larances have a detailed training regimen they complete with her daily.
“She has to learn the signs a person with PTSD will sometimes display such as crying, placing their face in their hands, a change in breathing patterns or a nervous twitch like a leg bouncing up and down,” Larance said. “Rumi has to respond by nudging the person, licking their face or even putting her front paws on the veteran to make sure they recognize her and give her attention. We practice doing this a few times a day.”
In addition to standard cues, service dogs like Rumi also learn how to retrieve items from refrigerators, pull clothes out of the washer and dryer, and turn lights on and off. With guidance from Rumi’s professional trainer via video conferencing, the Larances spend several hours a week reinforcing her behavior cues.
Larance knows it will be hard to say goodbye, but she wants Rumi to be ready for her placement when the time comes.
“While it is extremely hard to give up our foster dogs — there are lots of tears — we know they are going to go on to change the lives of their clients,” she said. “It is so gratifying; we feel we are truly making a difference in someone’s life.”