Anyone who has a dog knows how quickly he or she becomes a part of the family. My family had a dog for almost 15 years, and we were devastated when he passed away in 2007.
We weren’t sure we would get another dog.
But, a few events happened simultaneously that led us down a very specific path. First, I had a cousin who was involved in a bad motorcycle accident resulting in him becoming a quadriplegic.
Then my husband, Ray, volunteered for a couple, and the wife had a disability. She had a service dog and Ray witnessed the amazing relationship between the two.
He came home and told me about it which made me think of my cousin. We then started talking about what if? What if we could help others get the service dog they need?
Working with and training service dogs seemed like the right thing to do.
So, we did some research, found Helping Paws and went through their vetting process. Within a month, we had our first puppy in 2008.
Helping Paws is a local nonprofit that breeds, trains and places service dogs with people who have physical disabilities and veterans suffering from PTSD.
Through their own breeding program, they breed only purebred Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. These breeds are known for their friendly dispositions and their natural desire to work with people.
The dogs are bred and whelped in the homes of Helping Paws volunteers. Then, at eight-weeks-old, the puppies are placed with volunteer foster families who care for and train them over a two- to three-year period.
The first puppy we fostered and trained was Nala. After three years and the help of another foster home trainer, Nala was placed with a woman who needed assistance with balance, stairs and transferring from sitting to standing and in and out of her vehicle.
Then, we trained Quincy who went to a 14-year-old girl with spina bifida. They went on to navigate high school together and are now in college.
Brodie was the third dog we fostered and trained. He couldn’t be placed as a service dog because he has severe allergies, so we adopted him and his job is being a Demo dog working with the Veteran program at Helping Paws.
Now, we are training Nash, who we’ve had for about a year and a half and has another year of training to go.
Each dog has been different, but each dog has been a joy to work with.
When people find out we care for these dogs for two to three years and attend training on a weekly basis with them, they always ask how we can give them up.
My response is, as I learned from another trainer, we aren’t giving these dogs up; we are giving to.
While it’s true we develop a strong bond with each dog we train, we realize they have a greater purpose than to be our family dog.
The care and comfort they provide people with disabilities or veterans with PTSD is unmatched, and it truly is a beautiful thing to watch them bond with the person they are meant to serve.
And working with Helping Paws has helped me, too.
First, it has truly opened my eyes to the struggles people with disabilities face. It has helped me become more caring and compassionate, and it has helped me become more patient.
But I realize the work with these dogs is not about me. It’s about helping others.
Helping Paws has been a gift in my life. If you would like more information on the organization, who they serve or how to get involved, please visit their website, helpingpaws.org.