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Service dogs in training wag their tails on Ghosts of Gettysburg tour

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Adorable dogs wagged the way in Gettysburg Sunday afternoon. They put their four paws on the ground and became one step closer to becomi...

GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- Adorable dogs wagged the way in Gettysburg Sunday afternoon.

They put their four paws on the ground and became one step closer to becoming a Susquehanna Service Dog.

Of course, they could not do it without the help and plenty of patience from their dedicated puppy raisers.

"It is a passion. I love dogs. I love helping people - two things you can conquer in one swoop," explained Jean Hess of Elizabethtown.

Hess is raising 17-month-old Ensign.

"He knows to pay attention to me. If he is paying attention to me, he gets rewarded. That is his paycheck for being a good boy," explained Hess.

Each year, the Nesbitts, owners of Ghosts of Gettysburg, donate a walking tour to the organization because it is so close to their heart.

After all, they have helped raise several dogs over the years.

The walk challenges the pups to show off good manners in a busy, public place.

"It is a wonderful experience for the dogs even on a day like today in the rain. There are umbrellas, hissing cars going by," explained Mark Nesbitt, owner.

There are plenty of sights, lots of sounds, and too many smells to count.

"We want our dogs to remain calm in that type of situation and kind of have the 'so what?' mentality, like, 'okay, I'm getting yelled at by another dog, but I'm going to continue working keep my attention on my handler,'" explained Lauren Holtz, the puppy development coordinator for Susquehanna Service Dogs.

"There is always the smells their noses are just so sensitive, going a mile a minute," explained Hess.

One day, these dogs won't have their puppy raisers by their side; they need to be trained to help their future partners, who could be anyone from anywhere.

"He [Ensign] might be partnered with someone who lives, works in the city, so this experience is very important," added Hess. "There are many different jobs they can have, other than being a VIP which is a very important pet."

Service dogs can be trained to assist children and adults with a variety of disabilities, including physical disabilities, such as spinal cord injuries, polio, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, stroke, and seizure disorder.

Some dogs can be trained to support people with psychiatric disabilities, autism, and post traumatic stress disorder.

Susquehanna Service Dogs also trains service dogs for military veterans and for people with hearing impairments.

There are also facility dogs which support children and adults in a facility setting, such as a school or courthouse, as well as within medical and behavioral services to support people receiving services from social workers; speech pathologists; physical, occupational, and behavioral therapists; psychologists; psychiatrists, and others.

"When you really see the end view, the people they help, the lives they change, it's just a wonderful feeling," explained Nesbitt.

Good news for people who want to help: Susquehanna Service Dogs needs more puppy raisers and sitters.

Volunteers selected to raise welcome the puppies into their homes and help train them for up to 18 months.

For more information on how to apply, click this link.

Ghosts of Gettysburg hosts a number of tours; for more information or how to book a tour, click here. 

You can also donate to help a Susquehanna Service Dog change a life.