Recently my husband Franz, Whistle, and I traveled to Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado, for my annual physical and re-evaluation of my disability-related medical needs. I’ve been coming to Craig for over 10 years. They are consistently recognized as one of the top rehabilitation facilities in the country.
During my stays throughout the years, I have noticed one or two other assistance dogs beside Whistle. But during this visit, I have noticed a significant increase in the number of outpatients who are accompanied by an assistance dog.
In addition to service dogs, I also was excited to take a peek at the recreational calendar for the week to see what fun things were happening. Every day there was one or more different therapy dogs who were visiting both inpatients and outpatients. I met a lovely volunteer named Connie. She was accompanied by Heather, a former guide dog who had developed some health issues and had to be retired. Heather made a perfect therapy dog.
We also got to stop by and meet four-month-old, yellow lab Otis. Otis is a Canine Companions for Independence puppy in training. He was nestled under the desk of his puppyraiser and Craig employee, Jeni Exley.
There is also Emil, a yellow lab that works with his partner, Becki, in Follow-up Services. The first thing Whistle and I noticed was Emil’s luxurious bed that was in the patient waiting area.
Everywhere we’ve turned this week I’ve heard wheelchairs bustling through the hallways and the beautiful sound of collars jingling as service dogs and their human partners are busily traveling the Craig Hospital corridors. Thank goodness for innovative medical facilities like Craig that truly understand and support the role assistance dogs play in the independence of the patients they serve.
What a lucky dog! One-year-old guide dog in training Ricki spent her birthday at Disneyland in California, but took a break with her people, Matt and Amie Chapman, to talk to me and Whistle on the Working Like Dogs show recently.
Matt and Amie are producing a weekly video series on YouTube called Growing Up Guide Pup, which captures the lessons they’re teaching Ricki, and they told us how they got started with the video series. They’re not only experienced puppyraisers for Guide Dogs for the Blind, but Matt also is a video producer. They combined their interests in their successful video series.
I really respect Matt and Amie for all their hard work being puppyraisers, giving so much of their time to give guide dog puppies a solid foundation for their training. Their idea to start a video blog about puppyraising is unique, and they have lots of viewers on You Tube who seem to be fascinated and eagerly awaiting each week’s new episode.
The videos are produced to be accessible to those who are blind or have vision limitatations, with a simple format and voiceover narration explaining everything that’s happening.
Find out if you might be ready to be a puppy raiser as they share their experiences, the challenges and rewards. You can also hear more about how they raise puppies and how they created their video series on their Working Like Dogs show, episode #45.
To see Matt and Amie Chapman’s video series, go to the Guide Dog Maniac channel on You Tube. You can view the entire Growing Up Guide Pup series, including the episode where Ricki goes to Disneyland and the short special where she meets Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.
Who would have thought that in six weeks we could create a new web site (assistancedogweek.org), develop a tool box of free informational materials, AND get events planned in nine states which include three Governors signing proclamations declaring August 8-14, 2010 as National Assistance Dog Week? It just goes to show you what a few people can accomplish when they put their minds and energy into it!
I am so excited and humbled to be a part of National Assistance Dog Week! This is our chance to stop and reflect on all of the amazing animals that give so selflessly to individuals with disabilities each and every day. Another big part of this celebratory week is not only recognizing the animals, but also giving credit to the people who enable these dogs to do their life-changing work.
I’m referring to the service dog recipients, volunteer puppyraisers, professional trainers, veterinarians, groomers, prison program participants, funders, administrators, animal welfare researchers and advocates, and all of the other countless individuals who contribute to the training, maintenance, and well-being of these highly trained animals.
I would also like to acknowledge the family members, friends, and caregivers who live with, or spend time with individuals with disabilities who utilize an assistance dog. They know firsthand the impact these animals have on our lives. And, I want to thank them for the support and care they provide to both individuals with disabilities and their assistance dogs.
Who better than Betty White to help celebrate NADW? She took time out of her extremely busy schedule to stop by Working Like Dogs on Pet Life Radio this week in honor of NADW. This woman has truly dedicated her life and her resources to animal welfare. She really understands the unique bond between an individual and their assistance dog.
We are also grateful that Ali MacGraw visited with us on Working Like Dogs this week. She told us about her animals, her support for Assistance Dogs of the West, and how she got involved in fundraising for animal organizations. Ali also performed a delightful reading of all three of Judith Newton’s children’s books about Nito the service dog.
NADW is an opportunity for us to join together to recognize the hard work and ongoing commitment that assistance dogs require and to educate the public about how assistance dogs impact the quality of life and independence for individuals with disabilities. As much as I am dedicated to honoring these dogs and the people that support them, I am just as committed to paving the way for future dogs and the individuals that they will serve.
We must be vigilant in our efforts to educate the public, preserve our public access rights, and protect our civil right to utilize a service animal in and outside of these United States. Thank you to everyone who have and who continue to support NADW and these amazing working animals! Together, we can ensure equal access and equal rights for all individuals with disabilities.
I can’t wait to hear how you are celebrating NADW in your communities, both this year and as we look forward to August 2011! Let’s spread the word about assistance dogs and all of their life-changing abilities!
Recently I got to visit with Carolyn Clark Beedle, Executive Director of Assistance Dogs of the West (ADW), on Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com. Carolyn stopped by to talk about the work she and her staff and volunteers are accomplishing at ADW in Santa Fe, NM.
ADW has been around since 1995 and they provide trained service dogs to people with disabilities in order to increase self-reliance and independence. They are relatively a small to medium size assistance dog agency that places about 20 dogs a year to clients in New Mexico and other parts of the country.
One of the things I enjoyed most during our visit was learning about ADW’s innovative educational and vocational programs. These programs engage elementary, middle and high school students at young as 8, at-risk teenagers, juvenile detainees, and youth and adult student trainers with developmental and physical disabilities.
ADW is unique in working with these populations to become student trainers. Since 1996, ADW trainers have worked with students at Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and other Northern New Mexico schools and agencies to deliver the ADW School Assistance Dog Program curricula. These innovative programs are teaching participating youth and adults the importance of patience and leadership, how to give and receive love, the necessity for emotional self-control, and the value of encouragement. As students build a relationship with their assistance dog, students also gain an understanding of the challenges facing people with disabilities. They also learn about generosity and sacrifice when they present the assistance dog they have trained to the client.
The genius of these programs is that the student participants pay a program fee to enroll in these classes. However, ADW does offer some scholarships and financial assistance for those who want to participate but can not pay the fees. ADW generates critical income and the student participants gain valuable social and personal skills. It is a win/win situation for everyone involved.
I was also encouraged by ADW’s Self Training Program where clients can bring in their own dogs for evaluation and training. A client’s potential service dog (of any breed) is assessed for temperament and “interest” in doing the work. If the dog and client are accepted into the program, for a fee, they can work with ADW trainers for a minimum of 40 weeks. Graduates of the ADW Self Training leave the program with Public Access Certification and an identified set of skills to support each individual client.
Hats off to Carolyn and her team of staff and volunteers for the innovative work they are doing to train and place assistance dogs with individuals with various types of disabilities!
Over the years, I have never ceased to be amazed by the self-less dedication I have witnessed from volunteer puppyraisers. These individuals open their homes and hearts to a bundle of furry joy and puppy breath. They work tirelessly to mold, train, and potty-train the puppies. And, just when the puppies become young adults, the puppyraisers pack them up and send them off into the world to advanced training where they will hopefully become a service dog or some other type of working dog.
Many people cry, “how can you put so much into a dog, care for it so deeply and then just give it away?” I say, "thank goodness" there are people in this world who can make such a sacrifice. People who can put their heart and soul into a dog and then let it go so unselfishly in order for people like me to be more independent. It is an act of love and support that is hard to comprehend.
These individuals love and support their puppies by giving them all of the confidence, self-assurance and education that they can. They also give to others by providing us with a loyal, dedicated animal that never leaves our side. Through their selflessness, they have enabled us to live our lives in ways that we could have only dreamed.
I don’t know how to respond to those who ask, “how can someone say good-bye to their young dogs in the prime of their lives?” All I can say is "thank you" for enabling me and other individuals with disabilities to say hello to life’s possibilities, hello to adventure, and hello to hope.
I guess that every puppyraiser knows that because of his and her dedication and hard work, they are sending this trained, young adult dog into the world. They are not saying good-bye to their beloved dog, but they are saying “go forward, take the love and confidence I have instilled in you and share it with others so that they may know love and self-confidence too.”