While Duke has many jobs around WCDC Inc. in Washington, his favorite is playing ball with the clients in the recycling room in the main building.
Duke, WCDC?s lovable 80-pound Golden Labrador service dog, only recently turned a year old. Last November, the clients threw Duke a birthday party and had cupcakes and party hats to celebrate the occasion. When Duke arrives in the morning, the first thing he does is go into the back of the facility to greet the staff and the clients. Usually later in the day, President Dave Hoffman takes Duke in the back to see the clients again. Many times they leave Duke in back and when he is ready to return to the front he makes his own way there.
?He is a rock star with the clients,? Hoffman said. ?He walks in there and everyone knows Duke.?
Hoffman said it was the day that Rodney Rutan, owner of Sonrise Helpers Service Dogs, brought Duke?s mom and dad to visit the clients, that the administration knew that WCDC needed to have a service dog. Hoffman recalls Duke?s mom had just had a litter of eight puppies. He said after seeing the reaction from the clients to the animals, it was decided to get a dog.
?For one thing, it was calming to the clients,? Hoffman said. ?The dogs would calm them. Another thing is they just wanted to be with them. They were excited to have the two dogs come in.?
While the people from Sonrise brought puppies for the WCDC staff to look at, it wasn?t until the staff visited the Sonrise headquarters that they found Duke. Hoffman remembers the one puppy who kept coming up to them, even when the people moved on to other animals. They also pointed out Duke?s markings, showing the brown streak down his back and a few flecks of brown all over. Duke was also very even-tempered.
While Duke belongs to WCDC, he lives with associate director Mary Ann White.
?I take care of him and I take him everywhere I go to help with his training,? White said. ?He goes everywhere with me. He is always having to be social.?
To purchase Duke, WCDC enlisted the help of some area service clubs. The Washington Lions Club, morning Kiwanis and the Optimists all helped to purchase Duke and provide some training. Even before the puppy was chosen, the clients had picked names for the new service dog. If the puppy were a girl, the name would have been Belle.
White said since Duke has been a mainstay at the facility, he has helped many of the clients when they have been upset. She said that he goes up to them and they may take him for a walk or he sits on the couch with him. One client had always been afraid of dogs, but Duke?s calm and friendly demeanor had quickly won her over. The two are now good friends. Now the staff knows that if a client is upset, they can take Duke back to calm them, and Duke seems to know the best way to help with the client?s problems.
Duke also recently attended Night to Shine.
?We had people come up who aren?t even clients here, come up and wanting pictures with Duke,? White said.
Duke has graduated from a few basic training classes. White said he does well with the basic commands. She said he would attend another class this spring.
As the weather is getting nicer, clients will soon go for walks with him on the Kewash Trail.
In the future, Duke will be going on more outings with the clients from WCDC. He will also be responsible for keeping the clients together.
?One thing we have been looking at is doing some walks on the Kewash Trail and help with physical fitness,? Hoffman said.