Bringing puppy love to Sisters


Last updated 11/7/2023 at 12:28pm

Photo by Katy Yoder

Joe Schneider and Iris Rivas with Yukon Jack, Brandy, and Rosie.

For Joe Schneider, dogs have always brought companionship, calm, and renewal. Many times during his 30 years as a police officer, the welcoming wags and paws of his four-legged family members helped him shake off the day's work. Schneider began working at Black Butte Ranch (BBR) in 2020 after 20 years as a City of Bend police officer. When Schneider started bringing his black-and-white Newfoundland, Yukon Jack, to work with him at BBR, people began coming by to see the giant bundle of goofy love.

Yukon's popularity at BBR inspired Schneider to learn more about therapy dogs and training them. "Enhancing my knowledge, made me more valuable when we were out in the community," said Schneider from his home.

After starting a therapy dog program on The Ranch, Schneider now has three trained dogs and has formed his own nonprofit called Paws 4 Love Oregon.

"We're no longer a part of the BBR police department. This is a whole new thing where I'm creating the framework for growing and funding our community service as a nonprofit," said Schneider.

"Our objective is enhancing wellness through the animal-human bond. We're bringing dogs to people and places in the Sisters community who are in need of comfort, support, and love - which these animals share unconditionally. We want to have other people with therapy dogs join us in that realm as we grow and go to more places like businesses, senior living homes, and greeting folks around Sisters," said Schneider.

Yukon Jack is the youngest dog in the program at two-and-a-half-years-old; he's also the biggest at 120 pounds. Schneider describes him as silly but very soft, and able to adjust to situations and be what people need. Joe's partner in the nonprofit is his daughter-in-law, Iris Rivas. She's trained Yukon and their other two dogs, with English and Spanish commands. She's found that some Hispanic and Latin folks can be afraid of dogs or might have had a bad experience with them.

"Telling the dogs to sit or mind me in Spanish gives the people we're visiting more of a feeling of control," said Rivas. "I can give them a different experience."

Brandy is a six-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever. Originally she was a Father's Day present to Schneider.

"She's a calm, quiet golden, very social and easy. She's helped me train Yukon to be a better dog. I'm a firm believer that your older dogs tend to get the younger dogs in line and train them. I think the world of that puppy dog," said Schneider.

Their third dog is Rosie, a golden retriever/springer spaniel mix.

"We picked her up in Ontario, Oregon. She was with a litter in the back of a truck where a farmer was selling puppies at a gas station. She was $40. That's the best $40 I've ever spent in my life," said Schneider. "At one point, she was running 70 miles a week with me. She's an incredible energizer dog. When you see her, you can't believe that she's 13 years old. She's just that goofball, and she keeps Yukon in check when she has to. She really enjoys people and is still a fast runner."

Schneider and Rivas can be found taking the dogs into businesses to give employees and customers a chance to take a few moments and pet a dog.

"I have a lot of respect for the Sisters pharmacy so we go by Ray's Food Place and visit them and offer a bit of stress relief for all the work they do," said Schneider.

Rivas and Schneider recently took their dogs to the Circle of Friends Halloween party, which was a big hit.

Being a man, Schneider knows he needs to be sensitive in how he moves through the community.

"I'm not going to sit with my dogs by the elementary school when I'm not in uniform. Rightfully so, that could create some questions about why I'm there. It's about using some common sense that God hopefully gave you to use your brain in those kinds of situations. The nice thing is Iris went with me to Circle of Friends. She's just incredible with dogs. We're so happy to have her in our family. She's very passionate about doing outreach with the dogs, and the bilingual aspect helps so much. She was a cat person until she came into our home three years ago," he said, laughing.

Currently the Paws 4 Love Oregon team spends time visiting senior living facilities like The Lodge in Sisters.

"The dogs come in and give as much comfort as they can. The residents look forward to our visits and so do the dogs," said Schneider.

Another regular activity for Schneider and Rivas is visiting hospice patients either through one-on-one visits in their homes or at the Hospice House. Schneider and Rivas work with Partners In Care to coordinate the visits.

"The dogs are there when the patient or family members need that kind of outreach. Yukon is a ham. He's great and a crowd-pleaser, while Brandy is my girl who will sit there calmly then slowly move closer, then maybe sit on your feet and let you know she's there if you want to love her. Everyone that can't have an animal anymore has told us how grateful they are to spend time with the dogs," said Schneider.

At the beginning of forming and learning about growing a nonprofit, Schneider is optimistic about the future of the organization.

"If I had my dream, it would be turning this into a bigger opportunity so we could reach more people and I could do it full-time. Right now, I work four days a week, so time is limited. We'd like to even help pay for people to get their dogs certified if they need those things. I'm looking forward to meeting other people who've done something similar so we can learn from them. Figuring out how to navigate growing a nonprofit in ways that help the community as much as possible is a big goal," said Schneider.

Schneider and Rivas are happy to talk with anyone interested in getting involved with Paws 4 Love Oregon. Iris Rivas can be reached at 301-312-9032. Joe Schneider can be reached at 541-408-3171 or email them at [email protected].


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