Late 2016, myself and my fellow Elanco employees at the manufacturing site in Huningue, France were delighted to partner with Handi’Chiens – a French association that has trained more than 2,000 assistance dogs since their founding in 1989.
These animals work as assistance dogs to help improve the quality of life of disabled people, enabling them to cope with everyday life.
Little did I know that when the charity visited us shortly afterwards to tell us about their work, it was the beginning of a new adventure as a host family to a trainee dog called Nobel.
The training of an assistance dog is split into two parts. Firstly, the two-month-old puppy is adopted by a host family, who will socialise, care for and train the puppy as they mature. During this time, the host family needs to train the future assistance dog to learn around 30 commands under the guidance of a Handi’Chiens delegate.
After 18 months with the host family, the assistance dog then continue its training for six months at a special training centre. When the dog qualifies, they are given a new home, enriching the life of a person or child who needs their help.
After a year of preparation, Nobel – a Golden retriever pup – came to work with me for the first time, and 18 months on he has been here every day.
Nobel has grown up on the production site (very safely of course), learning his commands in the work environment. As a puppy we started with basic commands like ‘sit’, but this gradually increased in difficulty.
Now, he can open drawers and doors, retrieve an object that has fallen on the floor, and can even remove a jacket from someone – instructions he may soon need to fulfil in a real life situation.
The cost of training these service dogs isn’t cheap, totalling around €18,000*. To bolster the charity pot we organise an annual race for Elanco employees and neighbouring companies. Each kilometre covered raises money for the dogs in training.
Nobel is now a full-time member of the Huningue site. He joins me in meetings and at lunch. And he is such a regular presence he isn’t just my companion, he has become the site mascot; every one of my colleagues enjoys his presence.
End of June, Later this year, Nobel will leave our family to continue his journey as a service dog at the Handi’Chiens regional national training centre. But this is not the end of the story – a new puppy is already scheduled to join the crew in July 2019. *includes the cost of the puppy, foods and all related expenses (e.g. medical care costs, veterinary drugs).