By Caitlin V. Reidy
NEADS World Class Service Dogs Organization in Princeton, Massachusetts is looking for
volunteers to raise puppies for clients in need of service dogs. As a nonprofit, 503 c(3) organization,
NEADS supports veterans, those with hearing loss and impairments, children with autism, and people
who live with physical disabilities.
The dogs that this establishment breeds, trains, and cares for truly live up to the description of “world
class.” The dogs that come from NEADS are purebred labrador retrievers and are followed from birth
to the end of life by the organization. While volunteers house and train dogs, NEADS supports them
by providing food and veterinary care, as well as training and housing care instruction.
Susan Nedelman, a full-time middle school teacher, has been a volunteer puppy raiser with NEADS
since 2020, and currently works on weeknights and weekends as a puppy raiser instructor. Susan said
that she applied to four different organizations during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and
NEADS responded right away. Because Susan was remote teaching, she stated she was able to take
on the responsibility of a puppy and get them acclimated to her home and eventually, a school
“The second puppy I raised was eight weeks old and came to school with me,” Susan stated. “We
had an assembly at school for the students to learn how to treat the dog and how to interact with a
Full-time puppy raisers typically take NEADS dogs into their homes for anywhere between 12 and
16 months. According to NEADS, raisers work on “good manners, basic obedience, and critical
socialization” with the dogs, and go on field trips to places such as malls, hospitals, and restaurants.
Weekend puppy raisers have an interesting role with NEADS as well. They have the pups only
during the weekend, while the dog is placed in a prison with an inmate and is trained collaboratively.
According to NEADS, dogs in the Prison Pup Program learn “house manners, socialization, and
maintaining obedience” during the weekdays they stay in prison. When a weekend puppy raiser picks
the dog up from prison, they continue to reinforce obedience and receive special training from puppy
raiser instructors. NEADS said that this volunteer program typically lasts one year, and is beneficial for
the dogs, volunteers, and inmates.
Susan, who has been both a puppy raiser and puppy raiser instructor, stated that in terms of working
with NEADS, it was “really important for her to be involved with a legitimate organization” when she
started volunteering nearly three years ago.
“The model and organization that NEADS has supports both dogs and volunteers,” Susan stated.
“As a volunteer, I feel confident that the dogs are in good hands when they are with me and when
training is complete.”
Heather Romanoff, Manager of Raiser Operations at NEADS, has worked for the organization for
about eight months. She helps to support puppy raisers, instructors, and is available to assist in
issues, such as veterinary emergencies or placement issues, that may arise unexpectedly.
Heather said she works at NEADS because she wanted to “take her love for dogs” and do
something “extremely unselfish for someone else.”
“Lives are changed,” Heather emphasized. “Raisers do become attached to the pups, but that’s
okay. When raisers meet clients and see where dogs are going, this becomes the focus and makes it
all worth it.”
“It is hard to become attached to a dog- however, it’s important to know that letting go of a healthy
dog will change someone’s life,” Susan reiterated. “It’s a lot of work when you’re a puppy raiser. I have
to tell myself, I’m molding this dog to help a human being.”
Heather emphasized that NEADS is involved with dogs from birth to death, and that dogs get a
“retirement.” She stated that when a dog is no longer able to work with a client, NEADS retires the dog
and finds placements for them if the dog is not able to go with friends or family of the client.
“Retirement for our dogs is always bittersweet, but it’s our purpose of changing lives that keeps us
going,” Heather stated.
While I was on the NEADS campus, I had the pleasure of meeting a service dog in training named
Honey. Honey is a two-year-old yellow lab and has as much heart as she does smarts. Heather and
Susan brought me to the training and playroom, where Honey proudly displayed all the commands
she knows, such as how to approach and “say hello” to a new person. Afterwards, it was leash off and
socialization time for Honey, and she brought me some of her favorite toys to throw.
“Labs are the breed that works best for this job and our organization,” Heather said. “Labs are very
willing to be helpful, they’re a fairly healthy breed, and they’re food-motivated.”
“Labs have a strong desire to be with humans,” Susan added.
After I met Honey, Susan brought me to the mall where she runs a class for puppy raisers on
socialization and taking commands in public. This was a real treat to see, particularly because I was
able to see the process that NEADS dogs go through to become service pets.
While at the mall, I met Cinda Capone, who is a weekend puppy raiser for Albert, a 10-month-old
yellow lab.” Cinda has been with NEADS since 2013 and has raised 11 dogs for the organization.
Cinda stated that she volunteers for NEADS because she “loves seeing when they’re [the dogs] are
with their client.”
“The first puppy is the hardest to say goodbye to, but all of the hard work you put into it becomes
worth it when you see the dog with their client,” Susan emphasized.
Albert is part of the Prison Pup Program and lives at North Central Correctional Institution during the
week with an inmate. Cinda takes Albert home from Friday to Sunday and works with him on
obedience and brings him to his weekly instructional training.
“The key is to be consistent,” Cinda stated. “This is the dog I’ve had to work the hardest on. Now,
he’s doing well and he’s great in public.”
Cinda and Susan said that Albert was originally challenging, but with hard work and consistency, he
has come far. As an onlooker, both Susan and Cinda made interactions and training with Albert look
completely natural. Any previously challenging behaviors with Albert were completely unnoticeable.
While at the mall, I also had the opportunity to meet a black lab named Durban and her puppy raiser,
Peter Schlichting. Peter is from Sterling and stated that he always wanted a dog, and his wife said that
he could get one when he retired. He also stated that when he saw NEADS was looking for puppy
raisers, he decided to give it a try.
“I’m all new to this,” Peter stated. “She’s [Durban] taught me a lot.”
Peter said that he takes Durban for walks in malls and socializes her with people and other NEADS’s
dogs when he’s training her. Durban is also part of the Prison Pup Program.
“Durban is a handful; she’s very spirited,” Peter expressed. “However, although puppy raising has
been hard work, it’s been a good experience.”
Watching Susan lead the class was really eye-opening. It was obvious that Susan is not just a
teacher of people, but of pooches too. She was able to clearly convey how to be calm and consistent
with both dogs, while still offering them positive reinforcement when they followed commands.
“Dogs don’t make decisions; people do,” Susan said. “It’s important to be proactive, not reactive,
with these dogs while training. We foster positive, not punitive, relationships between people and
dogs. Think about it like convincing a puppy, ‘you want to be next to me.’”
While at the mall, several onlookers came to watch the dogs train, including children. With their
parents’ permission, Susan’s natural teaching ability took over, and she incorporated them into the
training. After introducing the dogs to both kids, Susan had the children run back and forth, past both
dogs, while Albert and Durban were commanded to “stay.”
The children were thrilled, the dogs were obedient, and this showed me what important work
NEADS really does. In that moment, it was incredibly evident how much hard work goes into raising
and training these dogs, but also, how amazingly rewarding it is. Both Albert and Durbin responded
well to positive reinforcement, and I could see the sense of purpose radiating from their faces from a
job that was well done.
Additionally, both Cinda and Peter were dedicated to ensuring their dog was learning, even when
presented challenges. Susan, the instructor, not only showed positive reinforcement to the dogs, but to
both puppy raisers as well. This really emphasized the community-based volunteer work that NEADS
aims to provide.
NEADS is currently in need of volunteers and would greatly benefit from both full-time and
part-time puppy raisers. Additionally, NEADS is looking for volunteers to help on campus with
puppies and other work involving their dogs. If you are interested in becoming a donor or
volunteer for NEADS, information can be found on their website: https://neads.org/get-
involved/volunteer. Inquiries can also be made by calling (978) 422-9064.