Training Great Dogs to Help Special People
The volunteers at Canine Assistants have been working since 1991 to improve the lives of children and adults with physical disabilities, seizure conditions, or other special needs. Founded by Jennifer Arnold, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis as a teenager, this non-profit organization trains and provides service dogs, seizure response dogs, and companion dogs to eligible applicants living in the Atlanta area. Because Jennifer fully understands the challenges of living with a life-changing diagnosis, she is inspired to provide others with the gift of unconditional love and acceptance offered by specially trained service dogs.
“Super Dog Program”
Most Canine Assistants service dogs are born, raised, and trained in Milton, Georgia on an 18-acre farm that doubles as a field trip destination for special needs groups. The majority of the dogs are retrievers, including Goldens, Labs, and Golden/Lab mixes, and their training begins when they are 2 days old!
Jennifer has developed a remarkable method of teaching dogs that relies heavily on respect, kindness, positive reinforcement, and choice. She authored a book on the subject entitled Through a Dogs Eyes, and PBS aired a documentary based on the philosophy and science behind her methods. Her Choice Method recognizes that it is in a dog’s nature to cooperate, and they will act out of devotion to perform tasks for the people with whom they have bonded. These tasks include turning on lights, opening doors, retrieving objects, summoning help, and providing companionship. Each task is important in helping recipients experience greater freedom, but even more importantly, Canine Assistants help to eliminate feelings of fear, isolation, and loneliness felt by their companions.
K-9 Kids Reading Program
Canine Assistants are also serving as academic ambassadors for children in the Atlanta area. Through the K-9 Kids Reading Program, trained service dogs visit schools each week to listen to students read. Children sometimes feel ill at ease reading in front of peers, but they are quite comfortable reading to a supportive, nurturing dog. In addition to helping kids overcome reading challenges, the K-9 Kids program is helping to boost overall academic achievement, motivation, self-esteem, and confidence among participants. The national media has taken an interest in K-9 Kids, with segments airing on NBC Nightly News and CNN.
National Volunteer Program
Canine Assistants has developed a National Volunteer Program, Noah’s Team, which is designed to raise awareness about service dogs and many ways they assist people who have physical disabilities, seizures, or other special needs. Teams of volunteers engage their local communities in a variety of ways including presenting educational information to schools, hospitals, and other organizations. Noah’s Team volunteers also organize fundraisers to benefit various programs and future recipients.
How Can You Help?
We are so glad you asked! Through Canine Assistants, recipients do not pay for their service dogs – they adopt them. Canine Assistants covers the lifelong cost of training, food, and medical care for each dog through sponsorships for recipients who cannot afford it. Since the inception of Canine Assistants, more than 1500 assistance dogs have been placed into the homes of appreciative families. Another fun fact: at Canine Assistants, the dogs pick their companion – not the other way around!
If you live in the Atlanta area and would like to become a hands-on contributor to the amazing work Jennifer and her team are doing to make a difference in the lives of others, there are MANY opportunities for local volunteers. If you are inspired (as we here at 4Knines are) by the volunteers, dogs, and recipients associated with Canine Assistants, there are SIX OPTIONS to help this non-profit achieve their goal of helping as many people as possible.
The power of unconditional love and acceptance is truly a wondrous thing. This holiday season, let’s all do our part!