It takes a veterinary village to care for our dogs

FSD Health team with future mama dog, Cheyenne

Have you ever wondered how we provide medical care for the hundreds of puppies and dogs at FSD? The answer is: It takes a village of talented, generous, and compassionate veterinarians who work closely with FSD’s Health & Reproduction staff to ensure that our puppies and dogs start out—and stay—as healthy as possible on their journey to becoming service dogs.

“Freedom Service Dogs is committed to providing the best quality health care for all of the puppies and dogs in our program,” says Stephanie Guild, FSD’s associate director of health & reproduction. “At FSD, preventive, whole-health care is paramount to the overall wellness of our service dogs in training from birth to placement with clients. We want our dogs to be happy and healthy while they are in training and throughout their working career.”

“In July, FSD had 217 puppies and adult dogs in our care,” continues Stephanie. “There is no possible way that our small staff could provide all the necessary veterinary care required for each of these dogs from birth to graduation without a significant amount of outside assistance. That’s why FSD is so grateful to be able to work closely with veterinary clinics and partners who share a dedication to quality health and veterinary care in the community.”

In addition to Stephanie, FSD’s Health & Reproduction staff includes three health coordinators in the specific areas of nursery health, puppy health, and adult dog health, as well as members of our breeding and genetics team, which includes a manager, a nursery coordinator, and seven nursery kennel technicians who focus on caring for our dams (breeding females) and neonates. Here are just a few examples of the types of veterinary care required at each stage of an FSD dog’s life:

Reproduction and nursery health

  • Perform breeding evaluations to ensure the health of the dog in order to make responsible, appropriate breeding decisions.
  • Perform artificial insemination of breeding female as needed.
  • Ensure breeding females are healthy and safe throughout pregnancy, whelping, and nursing, including performing emergency C-sections when necessary and ensuring dams are producing milk appropriately for their puppies.
  • Oversee all neonatal health care needs to ensure appropriate development, including monitoring daily weight, temperature, and feeding.
  • Perform routine deworming, boosters, and monitoring of overall health and development of puppies, with wellness exams at day one, week four, and week eight.

Puppy health

  • Ensure health and wellness during early puppyhood, including administering vaccines and dewormers, and performing routine wellness exams at week 16 and then as needed to address health concerns.
  • Address routine health issues by performing diagnostics and treatments, and coordinating emergency and specialty veterinary care as needed.
  • Work with FSD Puppy Development team and volunteer puppy raisers to ensure that pups receive excellent care, both at our facility and while they are offsite at our prison training program or in puppy raisers’ homes.

Adult dog health

  • Ensure optimum health for adult dogs from the time they return to FSD from their puppy raiser until they graduate with a client, including preventive, routine, specialty, and emergency care as needed.
  • X-rays to ensure that the dog’s hips and elbows are sound for service dog work.
  • Spay/neuter surgery at around 12 months old (except for dogs selected for our breeding program).
  • Eye exam at around 14 months old to ensure there are no signs of degenerative disease and no current issues affecting the dog’s eyesight.
  • Specialty consultations, diagnostics, treatments, and surgeries, including internal medicine, orthopedics, cardiology, dermatology, neurology, and dental, as needed.

Additionally, FSD’s service dogs in training undergo a variety of health evaluations throughout their time with us to ensure that the dogs we place with clients are screened for potential health issues that may impact the quality and longevity of their working career.

In 2021, the total cost of veterinary care for the puppies and dogs at FSD was $336,118 — a large but vital expense, even with the generous discount our veterinary partners offer our organization.

If you would like to make a gift that helps us continue caring for the hundreds of puppies and dogs in our program, we would be most grateful.

Contact Erin Conley at [email protected]freedomservicedogs.org for all media inquiries.