As many of you may already know, Southwest Airlines has developed a unique partnership with a nationwide non-profit organization that provides service animals free of charge to those in need. Southwest has given Canine Companions for Independence the opportunity for all of their service dogs in training to fly with us as if they are fully-trained service animals—allowing Canine Companions volunteer puppy raisers a chance to fly without a pet fee. Thanks to our Frontline Employees the partnership has been an incredible success.
After researching Canine Companions for a blog post earlier this year, my interest in getting involved with an organization that my Employer also supported started to grow. In March, I was invited to attend a tour of Canine Companions’ newest regional facility, the Kinkeade Campus, in Irving (about 10 minutes from SWA HDQ)—where I completely fell in love with the organization and knew I had to get more involved.
As a non-profit organization, Canine Companions relies almost entirely on volunteerism from supporters. Volunteering for Canine Companions takes on many different forms, from monetary donations, to time spent at puppy spa sessions (bath time!) at a regional campus, puppy raising, breeding, and beyond. I felt called to immerse myself in Canine Companions, so I decided to make the ‘sacrifice’ of raising one of their puppies from eight weeks old to two years old.
Volunteering as a puppy raiser is an enormous commitment, as you devote almost two years to developing a growing service animal, teaching it basic obedience and service commands, socializing it in preparation for being a service animal, and generally spend 24/7/365 with a dog that is not your ‘pet’. It also required a lot of buy-in from my significant other and family, my Department and Executive Leaders, and essentially the entire HDQ and TOPS staff (as the pup is expected to come to work and be socialized in workplace environments as well). So, after the initial decision, multiple sign-offs from everyone we’d encounter, and an intensive application process with Canine Companions, we welcomed Otto to the (Southwest) family!
Having an infant/toddler puppy at work is certainly a privilege, but I assure you it’s not always fun and games. While at work and donning the Canine Companions service vest, Otto is considered a ‘working dog’ and is expected to follow basic behavioral and social rules while on the Southwest campus. We spend time learning about new environments (Carpet! Elevators! Stairs! Meetings! People everywhere!) and practicing commands in distracting environments. Otto has mastered sit, down, shake, wait, stand, let’s go, and hurry (which mean go to the toilet on command, outside). He must also have appropriate play behavior during our structured play time each day, and of course napping—his #1 skill right now.
Having a service animal in training at work hasn’t just been a win for Canine Companions, but it’s also help set Southwest up for success in the work place. We will be better prepared for an Employee with a service animal working at HDQ and TOPS; Employees will already be familiar on how to interact with a working service dog and relief areas will have already been established.
Although having Otto present at work each day may be a one-time opportunity, there are Employees across the network who also are involved with Canine Companions, including volunteer puppy raisers in workgroups like Tech Ops and Flight Ops! You don’t have to be a puppy raiser to get involved either, there are opportunities at each region across the network (for Texas’ South Central Region, consider North Texas Giving Day or DogFest Walk ‘N Roll—Team Otto).Just visit cci.org to find your nearest region and find out about opportunities for you to get involved.
I hope you enjoyed this post; the first in a quarterly series about Otto’s time at Southwest. Stay tuned for future installments of the “Otto-biography”—including some written by Otto himself!