By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
On Sunday, March 10, Walpole High School hosted a graduation. There were no graduation robes, no caps, and no band playing. Instead of human students, there were 15 fluffy golden retrievers celebrating the completion of their training to become fully-fledged service dogs. For those paired with the dogs, it was a step towards independence and a safer lifestyle.
The canine graduates were all students of GOFI (Golden Opportunities for Independence). This was first graduation GOFI has had since the program was started a few years ago. GOFI began when Pauline Hoegler realized that she wanted to work with service dogs. She already knew about the physical impact a dog can have on a person: their stress levels are reduced, blood pressure is lowered, and heart rate goes down. With the knowledge and after almost two decades of breeding golden retrievers, Pauline began focusing on raising a few of them to be working dogs.
Ari Braverman (14) and Ariah (2) have been working together for a year. Ariah had initially been placed with a different person - she was meant to work with the Walpole Police Department rather than serve as one individual’s service dog. She was then placed with another person to serve as a service dog, though that also did not work out. Now, Ari and Ariah have been together for a year.
The graduating class also contained the Walpole Police Department's dog, Rebel. Rebel serves as the community resource dog, working alongside her handler, Tommy. Other police departments and communities have heard about the success of Rebel and the WPD, and the knowledge has inspired them to get their own community resource canines. The Brookline Police Department, for example, will be the next police department to work with a GOFI dog.
Included in Sunday's program was a brief demonstration exemplifying some of the tasks that the graduating dogs would be able to complete. Gideon and Dawn were up first, the former showing the audience how he helps his owner to get ready to go shopping. During the demonstration, Gideon grabbed items his owner would need to go out and helped pick up items, like keys and a glasses case, that had been dropped. “Our dogs are trained to pick up something as small as a penny,” remarked Pauline Hoegler.
Next were Nicole and Duke, who demonstrated how to turn lights on and off, using a prop. During his demonstration, Duke watched to make sure that the light actually turned on. Hoegler explained that this particular skill is helpful for someone who has trouble with mobility. When they finish getting ready for bed at night, it can be difficult for them to have to get back up and turn off the lights. Though it seems easy, Duke’s ability to turn the lights on and off will save his owner both time and effort.
Though many people view golden retrievers as fluffy goofballs, this graduation showed just how smart they can be. Fourteen of these dogs will spend the rest of their lives helping their owners handle everyday tasks that many of us take for granted. Rebel will continue to show just how good she is at bringing together her community.
For Pauline Hoegler, it’s proof that her dream has become a reality, and that GOFI will continue to help people for years to come.