Four new teams are training at Helping Paws, preparing to launch into a full new life together. This class of up-and-coming graduates symbolizes Helping Paws in some ways: The dogs come from four different litter classes (April, Color, Do, and Edge) and the people from different walks of life. Included in the mix is the pairing of AJ and Pam, a clinical psychologist with People Incorporated, where AJ will be a Facility Dog. Helping Paws worked with People Incorporated for more than a year to find the perfect match, and a week’s “internship” for AJ, where she went home with Pam each night, demonstrated the fit had been found.

Together, the teams are learning to smoothly operate with the more than 70 cues for tasks the dogs already know. They have worked together in downtown Hopkins, Ridgedale Mall, and Home Depot, trips that include practice loading and unloading from vehicles. Health care, grooming, the rights and responsibilities of public access, and every other subject Helping Paws instructors have learned to include have been part of the agenda. 

A key day for everyone—graduates, service dogs, Foster Home Trainers and staff—is the second Wednesday of the three-week period. On this day, the dogs go home with their new lifetime partner, moving officially from their foster homes to their permanent residences. It is an emotional day and an exciting one.  We thought you might like to know how it went last week for Brenda and Duncan, Jennifer and Elvis, and Vicky and Chase.  

Brenda and Duncan

In his first night home with Brenda, Duncan navigated through multiple doors and maneuvered on and off a small elevator to reach an apartment door with a “Welcome Home” sign placed at his eye level and featuring his picture. The two shared a calm first night marked by special music, a massage for the new resident, and kibble Brenda had baked beforehand so that the aroma greeted her new partner on entering.  When morning arrived, Duncan proceeded to find and retrieve his working pack from the next room, bringing it to Brenda to begin the day.

“With all that medications and illness have taken away, I now welcome more hair and more teeth to brush,” says Brenda.  “I am learning to speak Duncan-ese.”

Duncan’s Foster Home Trainers are Richard and Fran Greelis. He was donated to Helping Paws by Beth Johnson of Summit Golden Retrievers and trained as a member of the Do Litter.

 Jennifer and Elvis

The service dog Jennifer already terms a “rock star” helped her negotiate steps and demonstrated he quickly recognized which door now means “home” on his very first night there.  Elvis’ support extends to more tangible effects for Jennifer: “I slept solidly for three straight hours, and I cannot remember when I had more than an hour at a time before,” she says. “Just knowing he was there in case something happened makes all the difference already.”  

Elvis’ Foster Home Trainers are Pauli Jackson and Dom Beckmann and Jenny Beem. He is from the Edge Litter (Max x Myrtle): Caretaker Home Bev and Herb Swedeen and stud services donated by Royalty British Kennels. 

 Vicky and Chase

What Vicky calls “this new journey in our life” began with a first night in a hotel room. She and her family live in outstate Minnesota, a fair commute to the Helping Paws training center. Chase was expected by the hotel staff—and complimented on his appearance—but it was his attentiveness even as he was very aware of all that was surrounding him that Vicky noted most. “He responds so quickly even to whispers,” she says, and after a full day of work Chase also made clear that yes, “the ball that squeaks” is indeed his favorite recreation.

Chase’s Foster Home Trainer is Anne Fleagle. He is from the Color Litter (Cutty x Callahan): Caretaker Home Judy and Steve Michurski and stud services donated by The Captain’s Labradors.

We will celebrate fifteen new graduate teams with a formal ceremony this Friday, October 6, at 7:00 pm at Hopkins High School.  All are welcome to join us for the passing of the leash from Foster Home Trainers to each new lifetime partner.

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 helpingpaws.org.

 

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 mattiedog.com.

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