Growing, playing, learning some social skills: The Kind Litter (Gangsta x Maple) is preparing for their planned future as Assistance Dogs. Born January 11, the puppies have more time yet in their Caretaker Home with Diane Crannell before they head to new homes and new adventures with their Foster Home Trainers. Four males, one female, and all puppy! Additional thanks to Jane Docter/Docmar for providing the sire services of Gangsta.






Three litters of new puppies are making the Helping Paws scene! We know pictures speak louder than words, so here are the Loyal (Chester x Karma, born March 28), Music (Teller x Augustina, born April 7) and Nice (Briggs x Lanie, born April 16) Litters. Our thanks to Caretaker Homes Jill Rovner, Gloria and David Sather, and Susan and Mike Martiny Family and breeders donating the sires’ services, Captain’s Kennels, Judy Campbell/Elm Creek Golden Retrievers, and Jane Docter/Docmar.

LOYAL LITTER: 4 female and 3 male Labrador Retrievers


MUSIC LITTER, 3 female and 7 male Golden Retrievers


NICE LITTER, 8 female and 2 male Golden Retrievers


Photos by Jill Rovner, Judy Michurski and Mary Gustafson.




Helping Paws staff and volunteers provide continuing outreach services and care to graduates and the community at large. A brief list of recent events follows.

Graduate Teams Saturday. Fourteen graduates came from near and far to enjoy complimentary dog grooming, lunch, and hear Dr. Jen Quast from Inver Grove Heights Animal Hospital speak on caring for service dogs as they age. A gathering is also planned for summer.

All Dog Night brought more than 60 people to hear graduates speak about what works and what may not when they receive a service dog. Graduates shared some moving stories to highlight the effect of the dogs. When asked what additional cues were needed, however, the sole response was Chad Woods’ wry comment of “Type on a computer?”

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson invited input from Helping Paws as a result of a recent Supreme Court ruling that supported the right to sue a school for refusing to allow a service dog in a kindergarten classroom. Swanson filed a brief in support of the parents’ case. Helping Paws graduates Angela Folie and Ryan Haugen met with Swanson to discuss the evolution of training practices for dogs who serve veterans with PTSD and people with physical disabilities.

An Open House for Veterans attracted eight prospective applicants to meet with current veteran graduates, their service dogs, and work with a number of Helping Paws service dogs in training. Veterans receiving a service dog will go through a training process this summer with actual placement of the service dog in August.

The following story appeared in CityDogs Magazine in March, 2017. We appreciate CityDogs permission to reproduce it here. 

Six-year old Golden Retriever Jed and his human handler pal Carl Ringberg were the first graduates of a Helping Paws Veterans with PTSD program designed to train assistance dogs to help veterans affected with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since 2014 Jed has been with Carl in his job as a senior district fleet manager with Waste Management, helping him manage workplace stressors and fight off the emotional numbness associated with living with PTSD.

Carl has what most would consider a stressful job at Waste Management, overseeing maintenance for a large fleet of trucks and a team of technicians. Carl searched for two years to find a dog like Jed. “First and foremost, you have to apply to Helping Paws to show interest,” explains Carl, “then the veteran has an in-home interview and has to get referrals from a physician and psychologist.” The journey for a veteran with PTSD to get a dog like Jed is well worth it once there’s a match, which is when the veteran and dog start training to learn to work together to manage PTSD.

“There is a training process where the dog and the veteran work one-on-one, every Saturday for three months, and then the dog goes home with the veteran to live full-time,” says Carl.

Jed showed some early separation anxiety issues that caused Helping Paws to question if they would be able to place him. All turned out well when Carl came along. “I needed the consistent touch from the dog and so did he, Jed needed me. We were a match made in heaven and we bonded right away,” says Carl. Jed helps Carl at work and in life by demanding attention whenever he senses that Carl is anxious, jittery, or losing focus. 

Jed also helps Carl feel safe in crowded places, and often will put himself as a barrier between Carl and approaching strangers. He can lead Carl out of a crowd on command. 

“Jed does a great job hanging out with me at the Waste Management office,” Carl offers. “All of my co-workers love having Jed at work. He tends to wander down the hall every now and then to say hi to all the office people.” The sweet face and loving nature of the beautiful Golden Retriever helps Carl remain calm as he slowly re-acclimates to life after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“He wakes me up from nightmares and jumps up on me to lick my face until I wake up, even if I push him off,” Carl shares. Helping Paws worked with Jed to help him learn a lot of different skills designed to help Carl feel safe and calm. “The utmost important job Jed does for me is teach me to fight the emotional numbness you get from PTSD. By being able to hug Jed and give him the love that he needs, he is in turn making it easier for me to give my children the hugs and love they need.”

Carl feels blessed to have Jed, and together they make a special duo. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD affects between 11-20% of men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and 12% of Gulf War veterans. Organizations such as Helping Paws, along with supportive companies like Waste Management, make it possible for veterans to thrive at work with a little help from specially-trained dogs like Jed. To learn more about Helping Paws visit their website at


About the Author

Rebecca Sanchez lives in Seattle with her three dogs and is a published author and nationally recognized leader in exploring the human-animal bond. Known as The Pet Lifestyle Guru™ Rebecca firmly believes “We need animals as much as they need us!” To showcase her love of all things dog, Rebecca is the founder, chief creative officer, and brilliant mind behind the award-winning social media star MattieDog, who happens to be ‘A Little Dog Making A Big Impact In This World!’ See more at

Access CityDog Magazine at

“What happens to dogs who leave the program?” is a fair question people direct toward Helping Paws. Sometimes health issues arise for the dogs or a young dog’s personality fits a different career than the one-on-one focus required for a service dog. No matter the reason, very often the people-pleasing Golden Retrievers or Labrador Retrievers move on to serve in many other ways. Skills intact, sensitivities on alert, they continue to change lives even as they change careers. We highlight three such dogs below, with full awareness they represent many more who are doing the good deeds good dogs do every day.


Ziggy may come last in the alphabet scheme of things but he holds a prime spot in many people’s hearts. Now seven, this Golden Retriever was initially placed with a graduate after completing Helping Paws training. It turned out this was not the right career for Ziggy and he was retired. Adopted by Heike Jensen, Ziggy went back to work immediately: Heike fell a few short weeks after bringing Ziggy home, losing consciousness in the process. Luckily she had trained Ziggy to look for her cell phone anywhere in the two story house. When Heike awoke, Ziggy brought her the phone for an emergency call to 911.

Heike saw the possibilities in the huge-hearted dog (he chooses people rather than dogs when at the dog park) and she trained with him for therapy dog certification. He subsequently began visiting children’s hospitals weekly, entertaining children in their rooms when their parents take a break for dinner. Invited up, he cuddles in bed so securely that everyone else can leave the room while Ziggy stays.

He also joins nursing home residents each Wednesday for bingo games, retrieving the red or blue stampers as needed. Nurses told Heike of one resident who had not arisen out of bed or gone down to dinner for several months as his illness progressed. Ziggy began visiting the resident for 20 minutes each week. After five or six weeks, the resident asked nurses for help to get dressed and ready for dinner, and proceeded to eat together again with other residents.  In another instance, Ziggy’s regular visits touched a resident so deeply that he included provisions for Ziggy’s health care in his will.

Heike notes that people of every age get a boost of happiness when Ziggy appears for a visit. “He makes them forget about their illness for a while,” she says.



She is the Belle of the ball, the keynote speaker, the star in the spotlight and, well, an attention hog. For Belle, “demo” is the best four-letter word she’s heard.

Some years ago Lu Ann Finnegan’s daughter asked if they could get a dog. Feeling the loss of her husband mightily, and anticipating her child leaving for college in a few years, Lu Ann pondered the choices. She offered to dog sit for Helping Paws, to take care of dogs temporarily for a few days at a time. Instead she was persuaded to take on life with Belle, a puppy in need of a Foster Home Trainer. Neither Belle or Lu Ann ever looked back. 

Belle found her ultimate calling as a demonstration dog and ambassador for Helping Paws. For nine years, and generally at least once per month, she accompanied Lu Ann to schools, community gatherings, the State Fair, and other large and small public places to show people the skills service dogs can provide. Lu Ann says Belle seems to miss going to work every day, and she “lights up and loves the attention” a demonstration brings with it. Over the years, the Golden Retriever also made clear that she has a favorite cue to demonstrate. “She seems to sense who needs a ‘snuggle’ (a gentle face-to-face hug in dog terms) and makes a beeline to that person,” Lu Ann says. “Sometimes the people cry. It’s a privilege to witness the comfort that Belle can provide.” At a big venue like the State Fair, Belle often chooses to snuggle with someone in a wheelchair.  And if Lu Ann, an eloquent advocate for Helping Paws, speaks a bit too long in her dog’s opinion, Belle “grines” (half growls, half whines) to remind her there are visuals—namely, Belle doing her work—to provide as well.

From the start, Belle has been the gift that keeps on giving. “She changed my life,” Lu Ann says. “I know what Belle gives and what I can describe touches someone’s life in a positive way each time. To see the joy that Belle brings reflected in others is such a gift.”



Who knew a potential hip problem could turn out so well?  Otis was officially pulled away from the Helping Paws training program at age 18 months, when the program’s mandatory veterinary evaluation of his hips showed some potential for later problems. He stayed healthy, but Helping Paws is committed to ensuring the best interest of every match.  Knowing he could work somewhere in the community, Foster Home Trainers Lynne Raymo and Alan Kezmoh continued training Otis (and are now training their fourth dog for Helping Paws). He completed certification as a therapy dog and Canine Good Citizen.

Lynne began taking Otis to a supplemental education program for autistic children, dropping him off weekly to stay with program staff as they worked with the children. The results were hard to miss: More than one child spoke for the first time because of Otis. Therapists taught the children hand signals that Otis also knew—drop, sit, come—and the children joined those signals with any vocalization they chose. Otis responded to any word paired with the signal he already recognized and the effects of being able to verbally communicate, as the children perceived it, were profound. Lynne tells the story of arriving later than planned one day with Otis by her side, only to have a small girl come flying forward calling “I want Otis with me!” Staff and parents began crying and a slightly bewildered Lynne apologized for being late. That was not at all the full story: The greeting for Otis was the first time this small girl had ever spoken, much less chained words together in a sentence. It was a breakthrough moment brought on by a big dog with a wagging tail and profound capacity to pay attention.

Otis also volunteered seven years at Guardian Angels Care Center and Guardian Angels by the Lake in Elk River. Each week, he worked alongside staff at these long term, transitional, and memory care facilities. Three hours each Wednesday—he didn’t take a break—and in the course of the day, Otis helped the staff even as he comforted the residents. Staff could cuddle on the floor with him when needed. In return he ate their doughnuts.  Otis visited a woman resident so regularly that he could find her room on his own. When she died, he did not approach the room again.

After each visit this dog doing yeoman work would sleep deeply for hours. As Lynne notes, he never took a rest from the emotions of the people who needed him when he was there. When the day finally came for Otis to retire, one of his nurse friends watched him head down the hall for the last time and voiced what everyone else was likely feeling.

“There,” she said, “there goes my heart.”