4 Paws for Ability: Training Assistance Dogs for Children with Health Conditions
It’s American National Pet Month all of June which aims to promote responsible pet ownership and increase awareness of the important role service animals can play in society.
Many animals are being trained to help their human owners who have disabilities or health conditions. Medical assistance or service dogs are a great example of this. They can be trained to aid a wide variety of issues and the number of organisations devoted to training and donating them is on the rise globally.
4 Paws for Ability is a non-profit organisation who train and place assistance dogs with children who have a range of health conditions and disabilities. They train dogs for children with autism, diabetes, food allergies, mobility issues, FASD, hearing and guide dogs plus multipurpose dogs for those who suffer from multiple issues. They have recently introduced a Veteran Assistance dogs section to their business too.
When Karen, founder of 4 Paws for Ability, was turned down numerous times by assistance dog agencies for being ‘too disabled’, she vowed to start her own service that didn’t judge applicants on the severity of their disability or their age. She saw a gap in the market for assistance dogs for children that were granted public access, that were trained to help specific health conditions and that could be given to any child, regardless of age.
4 Paws also aims to increase public awareness of the laws regarding service animals and the value they provide their owners.
We spoke to Kelly Camm, the Development Director at 4 Paws to find out more about the work they do.
The Star Dogs
4 Paws for Ability have their own breeding programme so they can use specific breeds and train the dogs from puppies.
“We have found that some of the most popular family dog breeds make good service dogs since they are already so good with kids. Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and Collies are especially common.
“Other dogs we use for placements where the children or a family member has a documented dog allergy are Standard Poodles and Goldendoodles-part Golden Retriever as they shed only very lightly. We also use Papillons for medical alert (seizure alert, diabetic alert, peanut allergy) and hearing ear work.
“Unfortunately we can’t accept adult dogs. Our dogs are trained from birth, go into advanced training at 9 months of age and are placed between 1 and 1.5 years of age. Placing at this young age allows the dog to bond quickly with the child and allows the dog to live a long life with the child. We have staff and volunteers that start handling and working with the puppies almost as soon as they are born.”
How the Dogs Help their Owners
Each dog is trained to help a specific condition, such as alerting a parent if a diabetic child’s blood sugar levels drop or rise too much. Other dogs, such as seizure assistance, also alert adults to potentially life threatening changes.
“We have been told by many parents of kids with seizure disorders and diabetes that our service dogs have helped them sleep better through the night because the dog is there to alert if a seizure occurs or blood sugar becomes abnormal. Some parents have told us they are even afraid to take a shower without their child being in the bathroom with them for fear a seizure may occur. These parents feel relief once the dog is placed because they don’t have to be on constant alert 24/7.
“They absolutely give parents and individuals peace of mind about the condition. Many children with seizure disorders or diabetes feel more comfortable sleeping by themselves and being out in public because they know their best friend is watching over them.
“An assistance dog can bring numerous benefits to a family, like being an extra set of eyes/ears/nose to aide parents who are constantly on alert for the next seizure or diabetic high/low. They can calm the child during medical procedures (one parent said that his child needed to be restrained by five medical professionals just to take blood. Having the dog has reduced that to no restraint by medical personnel.)
“A dog can also simply be a best friend that never judges and never talks back. Sometimes, a dog is that only child’s friend because other children may be fearful of being with a child that has seizures or diabetes.
Medical ID Jewellery
Kelly agreed that medical ID jewellery was a great idea for those with health conditions.
“I think it is an excellent idea and I have seen people wear them in public. Having medical information close to hand is critical in order for medical professionals or the general public to identify the condition quickly so treatment can be administered.
“Advice I’d give to anyone suffering from a health condition is explore every tool available to help you manage your condition and to live more independently.
How to Help
4 Paws for Ability is entirely funded by public donations and sponsorship, so your help really is needed.
“People can help by donating time, talent, or money to our organizations.
“Donations are spent on the care and training of service dogs for children with disabilities and veterans from recent combat. 4 Paws has an 11.8% overhead rate, which is well below the average 25% overhead rate.
“At 4 Paws for Ability it costs over $22,000 to train and place a service dog with a disabled child. However, our families engage in fundraising activities as volunteers for 4 Paws to qualify for a free service dog. Each family is asked to help raise at least $15,000.
“Upon completion of training, 4 Paws service dogs are required to be re-certified annually. It costs about $1,500 – $2,000 to maintain a service dog each year so about $100 a month.
“Our daily challenges are trying to keep up with demand for our service dogs. That is why we are currently expanding our facility with a $2.9 million addition and remodel so that we can house and train more dogs.”
Other ways you can help (if you’re based in America that is) include fostering a puppy or a breeding dog, volunteering at our centres, sponsor a dog, fundraise for us or shop at their Facebook store.