The New York Rangers signed a free agent over the summer, and his name is Ranger! Ranger, who is in training to be an autism service dog, is a Labrador retriever, and is one of five dogs born in his litter. (His brother Nicholas, is also in training to become an autism service dog.) Ranger loves eating kibble, walking around Manhattan, and watching his favorite team take the ice. The Rangers knew he was destined to be a part of the team, as his first collar was blue!
The Rangers partnered with BluePath, a non-profit organization that provides autism service dogs, to bring Ranger on board. As an autism service dog, Ranger spreads awareness on behalf of children with autism, as well as trains to become an official service dog to a child who has autism. After Ranger is finished with his training, he will be matched with a child, and in addition to being the child’s best friend, will help him or her remain calm when needed and provide social encouragement.
Before a game in October, I met Ranger and spoke with his puppy raiser, Saxon Eastman, about the process for Ranger’s training, as well as why he was chosen to be a service dog. As Eastman explained, “It‘s actually a pretty long process, and it takes about two years until [the dogs] are ready to start working as an autism service dog.”
In the beginning, the puppy raisers keep the dogs for the first year-and-a-half of their lives. “[We] teach them basic skills, house manners, and socialize them to everything the world has to offer,” said Eastman. After that stage, when they are about 17 months old, the dogs are done with puppy raising and move on to official service dog training. After about two years of formal training, they are ready to be matched with a child.
The dogs spend around three weeks getting accustomed to the parents, and then they go home and begin their jobs as autism service dogs! Ranger is about eight months into the process, and he is doing exceptionally well. I noticed as I was conducting my interview with Eastman that Ranger did not make one peep; he was just lounging and enjoying being in the Rangers’ press room. That shows that Eastman has done a great job making sure Ranger keeps calm in public, as well as when he is around new faces.
Autism service dogs like Ranger are trained to keep children safe and are often, as Eastman described it, a “third parent” of the child. She mentioned that children with autism have the tendency to “bolt” when they are in uncomfortable situations, or see something they want, without any regard for their safety. Ranger will be side by side with his child and will make sure he or she remains out of harm’s way.
New York winger Chris Kreider said that one his favorite moments with the team was when he walked Ranger down the Blue Carpet on opening night of the NHL season. “I love Ranger,” he said, “and that he’s going to help someone….That gives an inspiration to the Rangers and people everywhere.”
Top photograph by MSG Photos