Become a Volunteer

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Retrieving Independence volunteers are crucial to all aspects of our work for the successful integration of our dogs into the homes and communities of their future partners.

Our volunteers share a love of dogs and serving others. By becoming a volunteer, you will have the opportunity to change lives one dog at a time. We have four basic types of volunteers.

“It’s so gratifying, as a teacher, to have students who not only want to learn but who constantly ask questions and are interested in the material. I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate these guys at the Turney Center and the effort they put into the Serving With Canines classes.”
– Lesley Adams, Retrieving Independence Board Member | Program and Training Director

Retrieving Independence Volunteers

A large group of our dedicated volunteers with their furlough dogs ready for training.


Through our program partnership with the Tennessee Department of Correction, Retrieving Independence provides a high caliber of advanced and traditional obedience skills. However, to be successful service dogs, the dogs-in-training require more socialization than they can receive in a prison environment. The Weekend Furlough Program fills this void.

The comprehensive socialization program—exposure to many new and different environments, people, sounds, and smells—is essential for a proper service dog development. Through this program, the dogs enjoy activities that are not available in prisons such as car rides, movie theaters, parties, festivals, shopping centers, church services, being around babies, sporting events, restaurants and more.

Furlough families receive information from the trainers about the dog’s recent activities and then keep records so we can assure each puppy receives purposeful exposure to a wide range of experiences. The dogs begin in the Weekend Furlough program as puppies when they are four months old. They continue in the program until they graduate, which is usually around 18 months old.

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We often hear that the amount of time and activity required for furlough families is more than some volunteers can manage. Please don’t let that keep you from volunteering! We have many other volunteer needs that include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Drivers for Retrieving Independence’s small bus to transport dogs
  • Administrative and bookkeeping support
  • Physical and Occupational Therapists to help with potential recipient evaluations and to assist us in identifying ways in which the dogs can be more helpful to recipients
  • Training camp and graduation support: drivers for recipient and dog outings, shoppers, cooks for meal preparation, drivers for meal delivery, daily class set-up and dog walkers
  • We also have intermittent needs for special skills such as construction assistance, photography, sewing and graphics design. If you have skills with fundraising events or want to perform at a fundraising event – Contact Us with your talent, and we’d love to talk.
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Puppy Raisers care for one puppy from the age of eight weeks until the puppy enters the program at 16 weeks. This period covers an exceptionally critical formative stage for each puppy, requiring a lot of love, attention, patience and time.

Volunteers provide a safe and encouraging home for the puppy and are responsible for “socializing,” toilet training, crate training, exercise and rewarding good behavior. “Socializing” involves taking your puppy everywhere you go throughout your daily routine including work, running errands, out to eat and even on trips.

This real-world experience exposes your puppy to many sights, sounds and situations as well as handling by kind strangers, friends and family members. During this time, puppies develop confidence, coping skills and resilience required for a successful career as a service dog.

Service dogs must be in a relaxed, happy, working state of mind in distracting environments or potentially stressful situations that many pet dogs would rarely be in, or would not be expected to behave well.

To be able to work in these conditions, dogs must be completely comfortable. The more a puppy has positive experiences with new things during the critical socialization period, the more the dog learns that new things, in general, are not scary or dangerous.

All Puppy Raisers will have access to other volunteers, our veterinarian or other staff for support or training issues.

We provide a starter crate, leash, harness, collar, Kong toy and dog food. As the puppy grows, the Puppy Raiser will need to purchase a 36-inch crate.

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The Retrieving Independence team selects females ideal for breeding and places them in Breeder Homes. These homes are identified and deemed appropriate for maintaining the health of the female and providing the love and care needed for her throughout her life.

Retrieving Independence and Breeder Homes enter a contractual agreement, where the ownership of the dog is transferred to the family at no cost in exchange for their care of the female and her litter. These homes are predominately responsible for their attentiveness regarding signs of estrus (heat cycle), implementing arrangements for breeding and whelping (birthing) the puppies.

Breeder Homes are a place for the females to have a safe and healthy pregnancy. Breeder Homes are usually single-family homes that can provide much needed time and support for the dog and its puppies. The Breeder Homes will be responsible for beginning the socialization process, as the puppies are exposed to everyday noises and handling for the first time. At this stage, the puppies will be weighed once a day as well as start any medications they may need. The Breeder Homes should be people who understand the role of service dogs, have experience working with puppies and provide a nurturing presence for the breeder dog and the puppies.

When a breeder dog’s puppies are four weeks old, the dam and the puppies will be moved to a facility to increase puppy socialization. The breeder dog will remain in that facility for two weeks until the puppies are weaned at six weeks old. Then, the breeder dog can return home and take a break!

We are looking into getting volunteers for male breeder dogs as well. Stay tuned for more updates as we develop this program.