Happy 4th of July week!  It is here…..the half way mark of summer break!  Every year we start our week of celebration at the beach and we did just that this morning with friends and well it delivered.  Even if the rain came at noon…..it delivered the most amazing morning and for that Mother Nature, we thank you!

This Friday I have a feel good story.

My husband comes from a large family and we have been blessed with a lot of nieces and nephews and well….. they are pretty cool individuals.  I like spending time with them….keeping up with their lives when we can.  Most of them are knocking this life right out of the park!

Grace and her gaggle of boys……oh my oh my….I say act funny and they immediately go to their armpits??  Really???

My niece commented on a friends photo one day of a service dog that had just been matched with a partner.  I immediately clicked around the ‘ol facebook to find out what was going on.  What I discovered was that my nieces best friend happens to train service dogs in her free time to support an organization that provides them to individuals with disabilities for no cost to them!  I knew that I must find out more information immediately!  I had to share her story and this organizations mission with my readers!

I hope you enjoy this as much as I do….it pretty much makes me want to do the happy dance!

1/ Tell us about your program and what you do.
I work with the MidAmerica Service Dogs’ Foundation, Inc. We are a nonprofit organization that trains and places service dogs with children and adults who have physical disabilities free of charge. Dogs and people are matched based on their specific training and disabilities. We work with the Dwight Women’s Prison program Helping Paws. This program allows model inmates the chance to train service dogs while they are serving their sentences. These women are incredible for what they do. These women train these dogs for people with different kinds of disabilities around the clock and have plenty of experience doing so. We give these women brand new puppies and about a year to a year and half later we have a fully trained service dog. My job, as well as all of the other amazing women involved in this program, is to help integrate these prison trained dogs into the real world. For a few months we take these dogs into our homes and treat them as our own service dogs. For example, we took a dog named Caleb from the prison and he stayed with me for two months. He came to physical therapy with me, Target, the movies, and out to eat at a few restaurants. Caleb is now officially with his partner and allows him to go to work every day where he teaches people how to use a voice box like the one he uses.
One of the puppies in training.
These service dogs provide loyalty, friendship and independence to their partner. MidAmerica serves the Chicago land area and surrounding suburbs. Our service dog teams come to the Hinsdale Community House every Monday night from 7-8pm to work their dogs, and of course socialize! During this hour we go through some advanced obedience exercises and then we work on individual issues with the service dog teams. Currently, we are teaching a few dogs the “go get help” command in our class time.

Alexis’ first day of school with her service dog Candi.

2/ What made you decide to participate in this program.
While attending The Tom Rose School for Professional Dog Trainers,  I saw what dogs were capable of learning and performing. They are incredibly intelligent animals and can perform amazing tasks. After finishing school, I researched service dog programs in my area and came across MidAmerica. I started volunteer training there while I was starting my own business and I was instantly hooked. These kids and adults were so happy to be working with their service dogs and you could see the same enthusiasm in the dogs’ faces. Some of the people we work with are non-verbal, but they can command their dog like they have the loudest voice in the room. It gives them such joy to have these dogs help them in their daily lives. These dogs attend school and work with these people on a daily basis. They go everywhere with their partner to assist them in daily tasks that most people take for granted. I feel very fortunate that I am able to help facilitate and build these amazing relationships.

Jenny and her new service dog Bode (left) and her retired service dog Simba (right).

3/ How many people have you helped with Dogs?
MidAmerica has been functioning since 2008. Since then many dogs have been placed with people who have a physical disability, most of which have come from the prison program. The women have walls filled with the names of dogs they have trained and placed over the years. They’ve actually had to move on to another room to start writing the new batch of puppies they are currently training.

 Claudia and her service dog Saint.

4/ How do you become a candidate to receive a dog?

To become a candidate you can email info@midamericadogsfoundation.org to receive an application. Once you fill out an application we will set up a time on a Monday night at the Hinsdale Community House to meet and interview you. We need everyone in the household on board with getting a service dog and everyone in the household to understand that this is not a pet. This is a special working dog with a very important job. Of course dogs are allowed to kick back and be dog sometimes, but these dogs LIVE to work.

Amanda and her new service dog Pilot posing with Linda, one of our amazing volunteers.

5/  How has your life changed since becoming involved in this program?

I really enjoy seeing the process of a service dog match from beginning to end. We recently placed 7 dogs with partners just this past year. One of the best moments was watching a young girl retire her current service dog (another dog from the Helping Paws program) as she took on a brand new one. They actually look like a father and son duo! The retired guy gracefully stepped down and handed over his duties to the new, young guy, Bode. They clicked instantly. Another great team for me to watch is a hearing impaired woman and her dog Saint. Her husband signs to her during class to tell her what I am saying. While calling class if I need to get her attention all I have to say is “Saint, nudge.” He promptly nudges his partner and she knows to look at me for the next direction. Watching these two work together is amazing. They are so in-tune to each other. Saint even knows when to fetch the ice pack when his partner is starting to get a migraine headache. He also pulls his partner’s wheelchair in and around downtown Chicago to and from her job and on and off the train. Without him, she wouldn’t be able to live a normal life. If I can help in any way make that happen, I want to. I feel like I have a skill set that allows me to help people in a unique way. I would be selfish not use these skills to help people lead more independent, happy lives.

6/  What is the benefits of having a dog when you are disabled?

These dogs can perform a number of duties: turn light switches on and off, open the refrigerator & fetch water, close refrigerator, open/close doors, throw trash away (or recycle), pick up items dropped on the floor, help their partner undress, take off shoes, put clothing into hampers/washing machines, take clothing out of dryers (if front loading), help pull wheelchairs, aid someone up/down stairs, help pick up someone off of the floor, move legs up onto bed/couch, and “go get help.” This is just a short list of the things these amazing dogs are capable of doing to help enhance someone’s life.
Another great aspect of the service dog is the sociability it brings out in their human partner. These dogs can provide the courage for someone to be more social in the home and in public. They are an excellent conversation starter! Most people are more then thrilled to introduce you to their dog, but remember DO NOT PET! (Unless the person tells you its ok.)
To me, the greatest benefit I see of people having a service dog is the love and bond between the human and the dog. They are truly a team and you can see the love they have for each other. Its a loyal, unconditional kind of love.

7/ Is it hard to hand over dogs you’ve spent a lot of time and training on?
I spend a lot of time training and taking care of dogs. For me, the end result definitely outweighs all the time and effort I have spent. These dogs provide people with more independent lives, something that a lot of us take for granted. I do become emotionally attached to these dogs, but seeing the happiness they bring to others makes it all worth it in the end. To see someone be able to attend college or get a job because of their service dog is definitely well worth all the training and love I have invested in these dogs. Plus, I get to see most of them every Monday night during class.

Now that is an inspiring story….from a very inspiring lady.  Thank you Amy for sharing your program and for all the time you you donate to helping others live independent lives!  Hats off!!!! Love!!!!

If you would like more information about this organization check out http://www.midamericadogsfoundation.org/ Please consider supporting this organization and its volunteers so they can continue to provide these service dogs to individuals with disabilities at virtually no cost to them at all.

Also please support Amy’s personal business.  We all know that in order to help others we have to make a living ourselves.  We all have dogs and we all need help with them from time to time.  Please consider using Amy….

4 Paws K9 Training
Private lessons
Board & Trains
Behavioral issues
Competition/Sport obedience
Protection work
Group classes
Happy Holiday weekend!  Relax, Rock it out!  Step out of the box!  You won’t regret it!!!