Kane County’s technologies coordinator has a new trainee. His on-the-job training involves him laying quietly on the floor during county board meetings.
And also, no barking or chewing on stuff.
For the past couple of weeks, Blair Peters of Sugar Grove has been bringing Gremlin, a 5-month-old poodle/Labrador mix, with him to work at the Kane County Government Center in Geneva while Gremlin trains to become a service dog.
So far, the objectively adorable, chocolate brown pup is taking well to his new gig.
“He’s still a puppy. He’s still learning,” Peters said. “We’ve had a bark here or there when something startles him, and he gets a little antsy when he’s been sitting for a long time. But fortunately, he’s been pretty good so far.”
Peters is a first-time volunteer with the VIP Service Dog Foundation in Hinckley. He said he had a couple of different neighbors who were training families for VIPs, and they had been nudging Peters and his family from him to try it as well. When VIP recently had a puppy that needed a foster family to raise it for a couple of months until it reached training age, they poked him again.
“They sent us pictures of him, and that was pretty much it,” he said. “We were in.”
They first agreed to foster the dog until it was time for him to join a training family. It was only supposed to be a couple of months of caring for Gremlin and taking him to once-a-week training.
“We started to do that and just fell in love with him,” Peters said. He and his 17-year-old daughter worked hard to convince his wife to commit to doing the training, but she was afraid they would all grow even more attached to Gremlin.
“I told her the heartbreak is gonna be the same now or if it’s in six months, and we’ll get to be part of the transition to pass him off to his new person,” Peters said.
“Now we’ll get to see the difference he’s going to make in that person’s life.”
VIP provides service dogs and companion dogs for people with developmental, physical and emotional challenges. Dogs start with a foster family for a couple of months, then begin training with volunteers like Peters until they’re about nine months to a year old. The dogs finish their training with the person they’ll be assisting.
Donna Akers, president and founder of VIP, said the nonprofit organization is volunteer-run and funded in part by donations.
“The help of a well-trained service dog changes many children’s’ and adults’ lives for the better,” Akers said.
Once he signed on to handle Gremlin’s training, Peters checked with his boss and all the committee chairs to make sure they were OK with him bringing the dog to work with him, which is part of the process of getting Gremlin to be unfazed by his surroundings . Peters handles all the audiovisual components of board and committee meetings at the county and the live online broadcast of some meetings.
“I got wholehearted approvals,” said Peters, who counted Kane County Board Chair Corinne Pierog as among the most enthusiastic supporters of the plan. “She was completely on board, and everybody has been incredibly supportive.”
Peters said he spends almost as much time training the people around Gremlin as he does the dog.
“You do get a lot of questions,” Peters said. “But there’s a lot of value in getting people to understand what a service dog does.”
The hardest part is telling people they can’t pet Gremlin when he’s wearing his vest because he’s working.
“You get that tail-between-the-legs look from the person who asked,” Peters said.
“And telling them ‘no’ is not my personality. It’s so hard to tell them you can’t play with the cute puppy.”
And even though board members and county employees don’t get to rub his furry little head, Peters said he believes Gremlin is making the board room a happier place.
“This dog brings a smile to everybody’s face,” he said.