Volunteer Ambassador Dog Teams Help Create Welcoming Communities

Volunteer Ambassador Dog Teams Help Create Welcoming Communities


Did you know that Susquehanna Service Dogs’ Ambassador Dog teams participated in 556 community outreach activities in 2023? This includes 189 meet and greets and 112 formal demonstrations about Susquehanna Service Dogs and how assistance dogs can assist people with disability to live more independently and have the confidence to chase their dreams.

“I have seen a mother’s face light up at a meet and greet with the realization that something as simple as a dog would be the great tool for their young child with autism,” said Susan Tyson, a volunteer who has been doing demonstrations for Susquehanna Service Dogs for over twenty years.

“I became part of an Ambassador Dog team to share with others the amazing things service dogs can be trained to do to help others,” said Inky Byers.

Ambassador Dogs are specially selected dogs that have been released from SSD’s assistance dog training program. They may also be a retired or active breeding dog. All of them are trained and handled by volunteers who attend classes at SSD, run by another volunteer. SSD currently has 49 Ambassador Dogs handled by 42 volunteers.

“Doing Ambassador Team work is a way I can share SSD’s mission with others, educate the community, and continue to train with Jade, which she loves,” said Laura Eitland. “Jade and Cha-Cha love to work. Their smile, their tails wagging, the bounce in their step – it is pure joy to watch.”

“Anytime we are in front of a large audience demonstrating how to shape a behavior, Nancy Dreschel [who runs SSD’s campus puppy raising program at Penn State] will ask me to have Kelp do something he’s never done before,” said Susan Lechtanski. “One time, we shaped Kelp to remove the dangling keys from the lock on a computer cabinet. Kelp is quick to learn and always figures out what I am asking.”

“When the idea for Peco to become an Ambassador Dog came up, I said YES,” said Casey Gould. “Peco loves to work and learn new things. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this team!”

In addition to educating the public about the life-changing impact of assistance dogs and the work of SSD to breed, raise, train and place these dogs, volunteers spread awareness about assistance dog etiquette. All this community outreach helps to create a more welcoming, inclusive communities.

Ambassador dogs are sometimes one of the first dogs that potential partners meet during the application process, helping people gain an understanding of the ways an assistance dog could impact their life.

“One of my most memorable moments was during a meet and greet, when a young boy with autism kept looking at Meyer and I asked if he wanted to meet him,” said Valerie Whyman. “He nodded and sat down, and I had Meyer lie across his lap. As Meyer calmly lay there for several minutes, the boy visibly relaxed, smiled, and snuggled into him.”

“My ‘aha moment’ came when a potential partner shared her experience working with [ambassador dog] Captain,” said Vicki Potteiger. “I hope we continue to help more partners learn how an assistance dog can impact their lives.”

Thank you to all our volunteer Ambassador Teams! We appreciated everything you do to support Susquehanna Service Dogs!