Volunteer with RI

Retrieving Independence Team 2018

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.

Become a Volunteer

Upcoming new volunteer dates:

New Volunteer Orientation: Saturday, February 27 at 9am

RI Volunteer Introduction: Thursday, March 11, 2021 at 6:30pm (must attend new volunteer orientation before attending this session)

Please note all sessions are currently held via Zoom

We have four types of RI volunteers:

Puppy Raisers (Tier 1) 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.

Please note: Puppy Raisers are generally on teams so schedules can be accommodated and our puppy sitters are also available for coverage.

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.

The Retrieving Independence Training Academy (RITA) is designed for the volunteer who can train a dog for 2-4 weeks at a time. The RITA training sessions offer more in-depth service dog training skills and a volunteer commitment to attend weekly sessions when the RI service dog in-training is outside of the prison.

The RITA volunteers are placed with dogs during two periods: 4-8 months of age (Tier 2) and 14-20 months of age (Tier 4).

Please note: RITA volunteers are generally on teams so schedules can be accommodated and our weekend furlough volunteers are also available for coverage from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning.

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 20 months old.

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
  • 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.

Volunteer Timeline

Volunteer TypePuppy Raiser (Full time w/ a team)RITA (rotation + wkly training)Weekend Furlough
Tier 1
Dogs aged: 2-4 months
Tier 2
Dogs aged: 4-8 months
Tier 3
Dogs aged: 8-14 months
Tier 4
Dogs aged: 14 month until graduation, typically 20 mo.