‘These dogs go on to transform people’s lives’ – Leicestershire mum’s job as a puppy socializing

While some of us are still in search of our dream job, one Leicestershire woman may have hit the furry jackpot.

Vikki Meakins, from Thurlaston, has volunteered as a puppy socialiser for 12 years – which means she spends her days nurturing, loving and caring for pups until they’re 18 months old.

The dogs go on to become trained assistance dogs to help people with physical disabilities as well as families who have a child with autism.

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Vikki works with Dogs for Good, a charity that also supports learning disabled people and those with dementia to help them lead a more independent life.

Currently studying for a degree in dog behavior at the University of Hull, the mum-of-two shared her favorite aspects to the job.

She said: “I absolutely love what I call the ‘light bulb stage’ – when the puppy goes from not understanding what you want them to do to being able to do things and you get lots of that in the first year.

“When the puppy arrives it might not even know its name, but they learn so quickly and it’s amazing to watch them grow and develop.

“It’s so lovely to hear how the puppy you socialized is helping someone. It makes it all the time and effort we put into these puppies completely and utterly worth it.

“It always makes me smile that these dogs go on to transform people’s lives, it’s absolutely amazing.”

Along with her husband Martin, two young children Marshall and Farryn and Labrador Katie, the family are currently looked after an eight month old Cocker-Spaniel called Rosa.

Speaking about how she found her dream career, Vikki said her journey began when she started attending dog training classes over a decade ago.

She said: “The trainer told me about the charity, we became good friends and she got me into it.

Vikki’s family – husband Martin, children Marshall and Farryn, pet dog Katie and trainee-dog-to-be Dante

Once I’d talked to her I just thought how heart-warming this is and it would be so fulfilling; it’s lovely to know you’re helping other people.

“I like the ethos that it brings; that we have a responsibility to make sure this dog is happy and we follow the guidelines of the charity.

“They learn strong recall, even when there’s distractions present, and how to stay and sit.”

The charity also makes sure the dogs are sound and happy in their new environments, says Vikki.

“Then environmentally, we’re just trying to make sure they are really sound and happy in different environments such as busy supermarkets and cafes.

“That’s really important because if they don’t have the opportunity to gain confidence early it makes it harder to achieve later.

“There’s a fine balance between making sure they’re getting some exposure but not too much for their age group.”

However, its not all cuddles and treats – as one day the pups need to leave home.

She continued: “It’s very sad when we have to say goodbye to them, but we all remember that we’re doing this to benefit someone else.

“It also teaches the children an important lesson in that we need to give as well as receive.

Puppy socializing Vikki Meakin: two of her dogs, Katie and Rosa
Katie and Rosa

“Our first dog went to help a young boy who has a physical disability and my children saw how much freedom and emotional support the dog was giving him so that really helped them to understand.”

“The children understand that we need to give the puppies back, but my little boy does become attached to the puppies.

“We all have different ways of dealing with our feelings when they leave us.

“We all get upset, but we’ve usually got an overlap with another new puppy and that helps with the transition.”

Puppy socializing Vikki Meakin: Rosa the Cocker-Spaniel
Rosa the Cocker Spaniel

The charity is calling for more puppy-lovers to get in touch in the region and volunteer to help.

Chris Muldoon, Operations Manager at Dogs for Good, said the pandemic affected recruitment.

He said: “The last two years have had a real impact on our ability to recruit new socialisers.

“The demand for our services is incredibly high, but in order for us to support more people, we need to start with supporting our pups through the first year of their lives.

“That support starts with finding people who have the time to care and guide our pups before they start their formal training.”

He continued: Puppies are curious, mischievous and sentient beings that need lots of guidance and care, so the role of a puppy socializing is hugely important.

“There’s lots of support from our puppy team who help volunteers to provide the essential foundations for getting a pup used to the big, wide world so that they grow into a confident and polite dog.”

Vikki added: “It’s so lovely to hear how the puppy you socialized is helping someone. It makes it all the time and effort we put into these puppies completely and utterly worth it

“It always makes me smile that these dogs go on to transform people’s lives, it’s absolutely amazing.”

The charity is holding an information session for people who want to know more on Wednesday, April 27 at 9am. The session will cover:

  • An introduction of what to expect as a puppy socialize for Dogs for Good
  • Information about the support you’ll receive from the charity
  • A chance to ask questions to Dogs for Good’s expert team of puppy coordinators

Click here for more information

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