Assistance Dogs International (ADI) completed an onsite assessment of Helping Paws this past March, certifying that we meet comprehensive standards for preparing, placing, and supporting assistance dogs and those who benefit from them. We have been accredited since 2007, undergoing an exhaustive review every 5 years to maintain this designation. Preparation for re-accreditation began months in advance, and we’re proud that ADI asked to share several best practices from Helping Paws with other member organizations.

Why is this important to you? It means each and every dog we prepare is held to very high behavior and skill standards, always. It means you, and everyone else alongside you, can trust that a Helping Paws dog is worthy of your trust.

It means that in the midst of what can feel like an epidemic of “fake” service dogs—wherein individuals put a pack on a dog and claim the label—leaders in the field continue to work for the rights of individuals and the recognized integrity of fully-prepared assistance dogs.

ADI accreditation requires standards of program management related to application policies and procedures, dog training and care, record keeping, and volunteer and graduate input. Our training and office facilities—including safety, maintenance, and business practices—were scrutinized. The behavior of assistance dogs in the community and our role in educating the public were key aspects of accreditation. Helping Paws was noted for creating best practices in our application processes, core values, the Alpha/Gator Fund for veterinary expenses, and our policy of providing successor dogs to graduates. ADI made particular note of Helping Paws’ documentation of its practices and policies, detailed in large reference volumes kept at Helping Paws and shared with ADI.

Helping Paws staff ensure that our graduate teams receive guidance and support throughout the life of their dogs. Each graduate team completes the ADI public access test 6 months after placement and again when the dog is 5 years and 10 years of age. The teams are evaluated for safe and proper behavior in a public setting, usually a shopping mall.

ADI is currently developing standards for training and placement of Service Dogs with veterans affected by PTSD. Helping Paws Director of Programs Eileen Bohn is on the oversight committee that reviewed these standards, and they are currently open for feedback from all ADI member organizations. The proposed standards will raise the bar on expectations of organizations that seek to place dogs with veterans.

We are proud to be an accredited ADI member program and to be recognized for upholding ADI’s standards of excellence in all areas of our assistance dog program. Helping Paws believes that maintaining accreditation through ADI is key to promoting the rights of individuals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

–with Maureen Kleckner