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South Fayette family cherishes chance to raise puppies into service dogs

| Monday, Oct. 3, 2016, 2:26 p.m.
Sarah Paviol with Gibbs, a service dog in training, at 9 weeks old on his first visit to a local mall.
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Sarah Paviol with Gibbs, a service dog in training, at 9 weeks old on his first visit to a local mall.

Beth Paviol of South Fayette became interested in a new second career when, while working in retail at South Hills Village, she saw a dog wearing an “in training” service dog patch on its red vest.

She stopped to ask questions, and the person walking the dog described being a “puppy raiser” for a company called Perfect Fit Canines.

After discussions with her husband, Bill, who works in graphics, and daughter Sarah, who started college last month, the three decided to contact Perfect Fit and inquire about being puppy raisers as well.

When the family began in March, it was love at first sight. Perfect Fit Canines turned over a 14-pound chocolate lab named Gibbs (after the Mark Harmon character from the television show “NCIS”).

Perfect Fit Canines uses English Labrador Retrievers from specially chosen breeders.

Labradors are very people-oriented and have an even temperament.

The dogs can grow to weigh up to 80 pounds, so a large cage was provided as well.

The Paviols were to be responsible for feeding the dog for 18 to 24 months, and the company pays for the veterinarian visits, shots, training and more.

“Raising a future service dog takes time, patience and commitment,” said Bill Paviol.

He noted that the puppies have an invaluable role in improving the quality of life for an individual and his or her family.

Service dogs for children with autism act as constant companions and provide improved communication and social skills, formation of social bonds, easement of difficult transitions, interruption of repetitive and/or injurious behaviors and transition to young adulthood with independence and work capabilities.

The organization also provides training for psychiatric service dogs and medical alert dogs as well as animal-assisted play therapy.

Jim and Susan Wagner, owners of the nonprofit Perfect Fit Canines, placed their first autism service dog in 2010.

They hope to begin a small breeding program next year.

Part of the training the Paviols do as “puppy raisers” is exposing the dog to a long list of activities and places such as grocery stores, restaurants and more.

The puppy is being helped to apply the behaviors learned during group class in various public settings.

Once matured, Gibbs will eventually go to a little boy or girl with autism.

The potential client is exposed to several service dogs over a camp weekend before a perfect match is made and the client is paired with a certain dog.

Volunteers always are needed at events, or to be puppy raisers or give donations.

To help, call 412-359-9789 or for more details, visit www.perfectfitcanines.org.

Charlotte Smith is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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