Interview with Brigadoon’s founder Denise Costanten - A Brigadoon Service Dogs News (2009)
Q: Why did you form the non-profit organization called “ Brigadoon”?
A: I wanted to use my talents in dog training, breeding, and behavior issues to help people with disabilities.
Q: You say you target children with disabilities, why?
A: Because most agencies will not work with children and I believe a service dog can help a child gain confidence, feel accepted by breaking down social barriers, offer the child a sense of independence, and in some circumstances, give the parents a relief knowing there is another set of eyes to watch over their child.
Q: How long does it take to prepare a dog to put in a full day’s work for a person with a disability?
A: Generally two years. We raise most of our dogs from puppies. The majority of dogs are not mature enough to handle the responsibility of ignoring the environment and attending to their handler until they are two years of age.
Q: Please explain the process to get a service dog from Brigadoon.
A: The first thing is to complete an application. There are doctor requirements, references, and biographies required. Then the application is reviewed to warrant a real need for a service dog. After we decide the applicant can benefit from a service dog, we schedule an appointment for a personal interview. This is very important, as it gives me a face-to-face meeting and conversation with the person and/or family. I can tell a lot from talking with someone after such a meeting. We generally get to know one another. I tell them about Brigadoon, what we can provide, what we expect from the client, the training process, etc. This is to make sure we both understand each other’s needs and all the cards are on the table, so to speak. Once it is decided both of us can work with one another, I begin thinking of not only a dog to fit that person’s needs, but also their personality and lifestyle. Sometimes that “match” is made within a few months and other times it may take two years or more.
Q: Does the recipient have to pay for the dog they receive?
A: We estimate the cost to Brigadoon to be over $30,000 to house, train, feed, and pay medical bills over two years. In the past, we have asked the recipient to raise at least $5,000 toward that expense. However, having said that, we would not turn anyone down if they did not reach this fundraising goal. We are going to raise the current fundraising amount to $7,500.
Q: If Brigadoon absorbs the majority of the cost to train a dog, where does this money come from?
A: We depend entirely on the generosity of individuals and businesses in our community. We receive no Federal or State funding.
Q: Describe a typical day for you, Denise.
A: There really is never a typical day, but here is an idea of what a day with me might look like. I get up at 5:30am every morning to take the dogs out to potty and feed them. Then depending on the day of the week, I may go over training sessions with the trainer, Kathleen. I may have a training session with a puppy raiser, a client interview, or class with the at-risk youth from Homeport Learning Center. I will run errands for Brigadoon, answer emails, return phone calls, make bank deposits, and meet with our treasurer, plan fundraising events or meet with people about fundraising events. Volunteers and I may take the dogs out on a field trip to expose them to different sights, sounds, smells, etc. The dogs learn to ignore the environment with field trips. I might have client interviews, clients visiting their dog, or volunteer interviews or training. I may have to update the webpage (I’m not good at keeping this up by the way), or help write the newsletter. I assist the office person with updating the database or sending out application packets. There are everyday things like folding laundry (when there are no volunteers scheduled that day), sweeping the floors, etc… basically keeping the Brigadoon facility tidy (not all of these things occur in one day, thank goodness). I feed the dogs again at 6pm. Until recently I took them out again for their last potty break at 10pm, but now I have a person, Miles, who rents our apartment, that takes dogs out for their 10pm potty break. That helps a great deal. On Saturdays, I help with volunteers and care for the dogs. Sunday is play day for the dogs and taking care of them.
Q: That seems like a lot of work. I hope you get paid well for this seven day a week job. What keeps you going?
A: I’m still a volunteer, so there is no monetary compensation at this time. But I do get paid in other ways. Being involved to help enrich and make a difference in someone’s life that has a disability is very rewarding; it gives my own life purpose and reminds me to be thankful every day for my good health. I’m proud of Brigadoon for many reasons, but mostly because we provide dogs for children and adults that other agencies will not. We are a small agency and this allows us to be much more flexible with the client and the dog. Therefore we can train a dog to help with a variety of disabilities. Our specially trained dogs will perform tasks for the recipients' needs that would otherwise require another human to provide. Most importantly, the dog gives unconditional love 24/7.