Collegeville family raises assistance dogs for people with disabilities

From left, Frank Furey, Laura Micklus, Hal and Julie Furey are pictured at Hal’s graduation from training with Canine Companions for Independence in November 2014. Hal was matched with Laura Micklus to be her service animal as well as a companion for her. The Fureys raised and trained him from 8 weeks old until he was ready for advanced training at the organization’s regional center.
From left, Frank Furey, Laura Micklus, Hal and Julie Furey are pictured at Hal’s graduation from training with Canine Companions for Independence in November 2014. Hal was matched with Laura Micklus to be her service animal as well as a companion for her. The Fureys raised and trained him from 8 weeks old until he was ready for advanced training at the organization’s regional center. Courtesy of the Furey Family
Hal is pictured outside of Canine Companions for Independence’s Miller Family Campus, the organization’s Northeast Regional Center in Medford, N.Y., where he completed advanced training to become a service dog.
Hal is pictured outside of Canine Companions for Independence’s Miller Family Campus, the organization’s Northeast Regional Center in Medford, N.Y., where he completed advanced training to become a service dog. Courtesy of the Furey Family

COLLEGEVILLE >> A Collegeville family has found a way to do something they enjoy while helping others.

Julie and Frank Furey are puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit that provides trained assistance dogs for people with disabilities, and say they truly enjoy each puppy they work with.

Their fifth puppy, Hal, was recently placed by Canine Companions for Independence with Connecticut resident Laura Micklus.

“Hal is a very special dog, and I hope to have many wonderful years with him. I can’t thank Frank and Julie Furey enough,” said Micklus.

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Micklus was matched with Hal, a 2-year-old labrador retriever who has been trained to respond to over 50 commands. Hal can turn light switches on and off, open and close doors and retrieve dropped objects. However, one of his most important jobs will be to provide constant companionship for Micklus.

According to a press release from Canine Companions for Independence, the Fureys raised Hal from the time he was an 8-week-old puppy and said goodbye to him after a year and a half. They worked tirelessly with Hal, teaching him basic commands and the all-important socialization skills.

“He is a yellow lab with a heart of gold,” said Julie Furey. “He has one of the calmest dispositions of any dog we know, and it was obvious early on that he was going to be a great service dog. No matter where we took him, he met every challenge with poise, and a wagging tail.”

When he was old enough to begin advanced training, Hal was returned to the Canine Companions Northeast Regional Headquarters in Medford, N.Y., where he worked for six months with the organization’s nationally renowned instructors, learning over 50 commands.

Micklus and Hal were matched after the pooch completed Canine Companions’ recent Team Training Class, an intense, two-week course held at the regional center, one of five such centers nationwide. The Northeast Regional Center serves a 13-state area from Maine to Virginia.

The Fureys started raising puppies about 10 years ago because their daughter was looking for a service project that involved animals. They liked the program that Canine Companions for Independence offered, so they decided to go for it. They are currently raising their sixth puppy.

“Our primary job as a puppy raiser is to give the 8-week-old puppy that we receive a loving home environment,” said Julie Furey. “We teach the basic manners, and certain commands that are needed by Canine Companions as stepping stones to bigger commands the dogs will learn in advanced training. We are required to attend a puppy training class twice a month, either through our chapter or another location if the classes are too far away.”

Once the puppies reach 6 months, the puppy raisers start taking them out to all kinds of locations so they can begin learning public etiquette.

“These are the situations that can create the best memories, or the funniest stories,” added Julie. “It is a new adventure every time we walk out the door.”

This experience has changed the Fureys’ lives, and they are grateful for the experience to help others.

“The longer I have been involved in this unbelievable organization, and the more amazing people I meet, it confirms how blessed my family and I are,” Julie said. “Our children were born healthy and have been able to grow up and pursue their dreams. It is scary to realize how many people struggle every day with situations I just take for granted. I can think of no better way of showing that gratitude than by trying to do something that can be a life-changer for someone who has major physical obstacles in their life.”

Canine Companions for Independence is the largest non-profit provider of trained assistance dogs with five regional training centers across the country. Established in 1975, Canine Companions provides highly trained assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities and is recognized worldwide for the excellence of its dogs, and quality and longevity of the matches it makes between dogs and people. There is no charge for the dog, its training and on-going follow-up services. For more information, visit cci.org or call 1-800-572-BARK.