In an effort to expand on our community outreach, Blum Animal Hospital decided to do an amazing thing. By partnering with Paws With a Cause (PAWS), we are hoping to raise $30,000 in the next year to sponsor a service dog for a Chicago family with a child with autism.
Last week, we had the opportunity to meet with Sue Folkerts, a Field Representative working for Paws With a Cause for the past 15-20 years, and learn more about the process of how clients receive their service dogs. Folkerts explained that once a potential client is selected to receive a possible service dog, she then goes to their home to meet with them for an initial interview. During the interview, she videotapes the entire house to look for any potential issues that need to be addressed before the dog’s arrival and also gain specific information on the client’s home to be used when training his or her service dog. After the interview, Folkerts makes her recommendation to PAWS and hopefully a service dog match can be made!
Once a client is accepted to receive a service dog, the training for that dog starts and is specifically tailored to that person and his needs. When the training is complete, Folkerts takes the service dogs to the clients and teaches him the necessary commands on how his service dog can assist him. After Folkerts’ initial training with the clients, they cannot have any contact with each other for the next 30 days. This is to ensure that the client is utilizing the skills Folkerts taught him and to make sure he can handle this responsibility on his own. After this period, she goes back for a re-interview and videotapes the clients performing tasks with their dogs, and sends it to PAWS Client Services. If the client is approved, he is Assistance Dog Team certified! Going forward, Folkerts only needs to go back every two years for recertification or if additional training and support is needed with time.
These incredible service dogs stay with their person until they retire – this happens when they can no longer perform tasks or become sick. The family then has the option to adopt the service dog as a pet, which, according to Folkerts, is often the case! If the client still requires the assistance of another service dog, they are then put on top of the wait list so there’s as little interruption to their lifestyle as possible.
Folkerts brought her remarkable border collie, Houston, to demonstrate some of the tasks these dogs are trained to do and to educate the Blum staff about service dogs in general. Houston was trained to be a hearing assistance dog so he can alert Folkerts when someone knocks on the door but has also been trained to perform tasks such as picking up items off the floor (i.e. keys or loose change). Folkerts takes Houston everywhere with her, in part to educate the public about service dogs. One main point Folkerts wants people to know is that when a service dogs have a cape on, which indicates they are working and cannot be touched, people need to respect this. It can be very dangerous if a service dogs are distracted because this takes their attention away from the people they are trained to assist. However, once the cape is off, and they are not working, all the petting the dog can handle is allowed!
If you would like more information about PAWS or would like to donate to the Blum Fund or would just like to speak with a Veterinary Care Coordinator about our partnership, please call us at: (773) 327-4446.
Written for Blum Animal Hospital by Jackie Sheppard.