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Written by Doreen Poreba
For Heidi Fischer, animals are her life. She plays with them, works with them and now volunteers with them in a brand new role.
Fischer first became involved with the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast 17 years ago; first as a volunteer, then as a subcontractor and currently is an employee with the title of Animal Behavior & Training Specialist.
She teaches a number of classes including Basic Obedience, Advanced Obedience, Puppy S.T.A.R., Pet Therapy, Puppy Fun Agility, Focus Proofing Class, Nose Work (scent work), Tune Up Your Dog, AKC Tricks, Loose Leash & Reliable Recalls, Sampler, and a variety of agility classes. She also works three to four days a week doing enrichment with the shelter dogs and offers private classes to the public.
“Our humane society is so fortunate to have a trainer who is focused on getting pet parents in sync with their dogs,” said HSTC Director of Humane Education Jessie Clifford. “Heidi doesn’t just teach ‘sit, down, stay.’ She always goes beyond and is teaching participants how to understand and communicate with their dogs in a positive manor.”
Clifford also noted that Fischer is always looking to further her education, which means she is always teaching the best and most effective training techniques.
Fischer’s latest newfound love is volunteering with Topaz Assistance Dogs, a nonprofit organization based in Naples, FL that trains assistance dogs for children and adults with disabilities. When fellow trainer Laurie Volpe asked Fischer if she knew anyone who might be interested in being a puppy raiser for the organization, Fischer decided to answer that call herself.
“It’s not like work to me,” said Fischer, who has been volunteering for a couple of months with the organization. “It’s what I do all day … animals all day, 24/7.”
On average, puppies live with raisers for six to 12 months to learn basic obedience and become accustomed to daily life activities in and outside the home. To give the assistance dogs experience and exposure, they accompany the raiser just about everywhere, including the work place, stores, restaurants and other public places.
“It takes a very special person … going into it knowing it’s not their dog but also knowing the dog has a greater purpose,” said Shoshana Tanner, executive director, Topaz Assistance Dogs. “To be a part of that is absolutely priceless.”
Volunteers come from all walks of life — from students and stay-at-home moms to lawyers, teachers, and beyond. Tanner says they come together for their love of dogs and the desire to help someone.
“Some of our volunteers have no experience and that’s perfectly OK because we provide training to them,” said Tanner. “In Heidi’s case, it was a huge advantage because of her experience. We’re very lucky to have her.”
Volpe echoed her gratitude.
“Heidi will raise and train this puppy alongside her every day to work for a disabled person when the dog is between one and a half to two years age! What an incredibly selfless thing to do because she will eventually have to give her back to the assistance dog agency.”
Topaz trains puppies for physical or neurological mobility assistance, to become seizure response or type 1 diabetic alert dogs, and to assist children who are on the autism spectrum.
Not only is Fischer enthused about her new role, she’s also excited about the humane society’s new training facility — the Jane & Shirley Wurz Training Center —to provide bigger and better training for the public. The center is expected to open in the fall.
“I can’t wait to get going in our new facility,” said Fischer. “I’m excited for the public to experience the best training facility in this area.”