The newest members of Chewy’s Boston office are two yellow labrador retrievers who will be using the city as their classroom to eventually help children with autism.

Brothers Blue and Luca are 10-week-old puppies who are gearing up for their careers as service dogs.

This is part of Chewy’s first-time partnership with BluePath Service Dogs, a nonprofit organization that trains service dogs to become autism service dogs for families.

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“We’re so excited to work with Chewy,” said Michelle Breyer, one of BluePath’s founders and vice president of marketing and development.

“I can’t think of a better brand partner where every employee, everyone who’s connected to Chewy, truly believes in the power of the human/animal bond and just the profound difference that animals make in our world,” she continued.

Founded in 2016, BluePath has placed more than 50 dogs with families and in facilities, according to Breyer. She also told MassLive that she expects that number to increase exponentially.

“We continue to see how children with autism so beautifully connect with dogs in a way that sometimes they’re not able to do so with people,” Breyer said. “So we’re trying to put out more dogs every single year because the demand for our services is only rising.”

“I’m hopeful that the BluePath opportunity expands with Chewy and other ‘Chew-topians’ get to help out and raise some foster pets,” said Blue’s trainer, Brian Distefano, who is also the creative director at Chewy’s in-house agency.

BluePath provides an orientation and training for volunteers, which was key for Distefano, who is a first-time trainer. He heard about the program after the Chewy Boston team asked for trainers about a month ago.

“I mean, I love pets, but it was really the cause that got me,” the Sutton resident said. “If you ever spend time with a child with autism, they’ll change your life in the best ways.”

As someone who has two close friends who have children with autism, Distefano said he was instantly interested in getting involved with BluePath. After hopping on a call with the nonprofit, Distefano was sold.

“First of all, the people are great,” he added. “Then they started flashing up pictures of the puppies and I was done. I couldn’t say no.”

Over the next year-and-a-half, Blue and Luca will learn the basics of dog training, such as house manners, obedience and how to socialize with people.

The puppies can use the indoor dog park in Chewy’s Boston office to help them learn these skills, but there will be times their training brings them into the city.

“They’ll definitely be taking the T more than a couple of times,” said Breyer, who added that Blue and Luca were chosen to become autism service dogs because their breed is good at being “people-connected dogs.”

Luca will be working with Lauren Cook, who has been a volunteer puppy raiser with BluePath since it was founded. Cook was exposed to puppy raisers in college and signed up “right away” to become one herself. In her role, Cook will teach Luca “how to be a good dog and basic obedience,” she said.

Once the pups reach a year-and-a-half, they will go through a formal training with BluePath’s professional staff.

This is where Blue and Luca will learn actual service dog skills, such as anchoring. This skill involves a dog keeping a child from suddenly bolting away in public settings, according to Autism Anchoring Dogs.

“Our dogs keep kids safe through a specially-designed tether system,” according Breyer, who said this is the most effective training system. “In addition to safety, our dogs also help facilitate connections, they help kids make friends, and they also become a friend in a relationship where verbal language isn’t necessary.”

The dogs are usually placed with families when they reach 2-3 years old, according to Cook. She mentioned that not all dogs will end up becoming service dogs because they ultimately “pick their own career.”

So whether they do end up becoming autism service dogs, Cook said Blue and Luca will “end up exactly where they’re supposed to.”

© 2024 Advance Local Media LLC
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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