- Associated Press - Monday, May 29, 2017

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - It’s that time of year where many students leave their school and head out into the world. Graduations take place across the nation as proud parents, family and friends watch their loved one walk across the stage and receive a diploma. But not all graduations are for people.

PurposeFull Paws Assistance Dog Graduation was held this month at Westview Baptist Church in Martinsburg. The graduation capped two years’ worth of training for the dogs to enter into a world of service.

PurposeFull Paws is a non-profit organization that specializes in training mobility, autistic, hearing and diabetic service dogs. The dogs offer specialized skills for their masters.

“We typically use Labs, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands and some German Shepherds depending on their temperament. It’s determined basically by how well they learn. If we start them off from puppies we usually get them from a breeder with a good background in health and things like that and we (use) rescue (dogs) also,” said PurposeFull Paws founder Amy White.

Different breeds can be considered for different skills.

“It’s not carved in stone but we have some typical breeds that we use because we can’t use dogs that are protective or of that nature and there are just some dogs that do better in public than others,” White said.

It’s not easy to train the dogs or easy for the dogs to pass. Sometimes a dog will fail the course and not be put into service.

“Pretty much the things that will disqualify a dog, even if they have been with us for a little while, are fears. Fears are something that would cause them to not be supportive to their person or if they would be aggressive, growling at people or other dogs and things like that,” White said.

The training can take as much as two years. All dogs, no matter what field of service they will be placed in, learn basic commands before moving on to specialized training.

“If we start from puppies we don’t place until they are two years old. If we rescue a dog that is a little older that’s typically about a year. They all learn the same things, the same sort of obedience, good behaviors. They learn to sit and down. They can stay in a down position for up to two hours,” White said.

The specialized training is tailored for the recipient of the service dog. In one client’s case, a child would leave the home, a very dangerous situation.

“We are training one to ring a doorbell. Anytime that the girl tries to walk out of the house he goes and rings the doorbell,” White said.

Different breeds can do different tasks better than others.

“We find that with autistic children that if someone is willing to have a large dog like a Newfoundland, you know the Newfoundland’s are sort of the nanny of the dog world, and they are fabulous with autistic children. They are very tolerant. They can be pushed around because they are big,” White said.

Service dog training takes time and money.

“With food, training, vet bills, everything it’s between $20,000 and $25,000. We are a non-profit. We get donations from individuals and from businesses and we also apply for grants from foundations, and each person that gets a dog from us has to fund raise $5,000 toward the dog,” White said.

It all starts with the online application.

“They come in to meet our dogs, early on when they apply. They meet a group of dogs and we kind of see who gets along well with them. Once we do that we do a home visit. So during that next year, we go to their home and we make sure their home is set up safely for a dog to be there. They have to have a fenced yard or (able) to get out on a leash. Then they come in when the dog is ready for what we call a two-week boot camp. It’s basically where we teach them to do with the dog what we have been doing,” White said.

Purposeful Paws owns the dogs for a period of time after the dog moves into their new home.

“For the first year that they are placed with their partner we still legally own them. Their partner takes care of them but for the first year, we keep legal ownership of them so that we can make sure that the partnership is working. The dog lives with them, they take it to the vet but we could go in and legally remove the dog if it wasn’t being used as a service dog or wasn’t being treated correctly,” White said.

To volunteer to help train the dogs, donate funds or apply for a service dog go to PurposeFULLpaws.org.


Information from: The Journal, https://journal-news.net/

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