NEW CASTLE —
David, a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, knew that his new service dog would be named Lambert after former Steeler Jack Lambert before he even was born. As he began his search, David sought out the help of Jeff Woods, president and trainer at Misty Pines Dog Park in Franklin Park Borough, near Wexford.
The two sought out a breeder of Labradors in Cranberry Township and went in separately to survey what was available.
“We both picked the same puppy,” David said. “He was a cute little rascal, eight weeks old and the runt of the litter. There was just something about him that called to me. As soon as I saw him, I knew that was my dog.”
Woods agreed, for slightly different reasons.
“Most service dogs are Labrador Retrievers,” he said. “You are looking for a calm dog with a lot of intelligence so he is highly trainable. Lambert had puppy energy, but he was attentive and alert.
“Not every dog makes a good service dog,” Woods added. “Quite often, a dog starts out in training and doesn’t make the cut.”
A GOOD STUDENT
At 12 weeks old, Lambert was enrolled in his first puppy class at Misty Pines. First, Lambert had to attend Canine Good Citizen training, where he learned simple commands such as “sit,” “stay” and “come.”
Lambert later became certified with Therapy Dog International, where he received credentials and a vest to accompany David anywhere he goes, such as stores, malls, restaurants and Veterans Administration hospitals in Butler and Pittsburgh, which he visits for both treatment and camaraderie.
“There are 70 people at the Butler VA who know Lambert’s name,” David said, “but I doubt that any of them know mine.
“He’s a big ham,” he added. “He picks up the entire place as soon as he walks in the door.”
Lambert is trained to go up and down escalators and through revolving doors.
“I can leave him at the door of a store, tell him to stay and he will be there when I come back,” David said. “He would wait all day if need be.”
Although Lambert wears his vest when he is “working,” Lambert occasionally takes it off at the Butler VA so that residents can interact with him.
“When he has the vest on, no one can pet him except for me,” David said. “The VA is the one place where I will take it off of him that he can get some attention.”
Otherwise, Lambert lays at his master’s feet. His gaze never leaves David’s face.
“He stares at me, it is very noticeable,” David said. “He makes sure I’m OK and keeps me calm and focused. When I am out with Lambert, people focus on him rather than me and that is a good situation for me.”