By Blacktie Staff
We’ve all seen guide (“seeing-eye”) dogs on the street, and if you’ve ever wondered how the dogs got to be that smart and that skilled, the Power Paws Assistance Dogs organization is one of the answers.
Their motto, Empowering People for Independence is a phrase that touches the heart of every individual whose lives have been touched by these magnificent animals.
Did you know that service dogs are skilled in understanding 90 separate commands? These commands include opening refrigerator doors, picking up dropped items and turning lights switches off and on. That’s more than some teenagers understand!
Hearing dogs alert their person to sounds such as phones ringing, knocks at doors, and timers and fire alarms. Guide dogs, referenced earlier are skilled to help the blind or visually impaired travel safely and independently. Other dogs, called “Social/Therapy” dogs are trained to visit hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation units and group residential homes.
The Power Paws is really a family affair. Robyn Abels and her family started out as puppy raisers. They were taught by the leader in the industry, Dr. Bonnie Bergin, who has worked extensively with Canine Companions for Independence. Then Cindy Abels (daughter in law of Robyn) became involved. Cindy had been involved as a vet assistant and decided that Power Paws was really something that she enjoyed doing and wanted to be more involved with.
Cindy received a degree in Human Canine Science and now she and Robyn work together and are very excited about how far they have come in the last 4 years. In 2004 they graduated 9 dogs. Now that may not sound like a lot but when you consider that it takes a minimum of 18 months to train and graduate a dog, it is remarkable for an organization of this size.
Naturally, dogs just can’t be released and expected to team up with the first person to come along who needs them. Clients attend a 2 week boot camp in order to acclimate to their dog and vice-versa. One week is classroom training and the other week is out in the field.
One of the most successful programs has been working with high school students. The students work to train the dogs. This not only helped the students, some of which previously had attendance problems, but was also great for the dogs. In many instances, it was the first time that the students had felt unconditional love. Unfortunately the program was cut this year due to budget cuts in the school district.
Every year, Cindy is re-certified. One of the most unusual things to come out of the training that she attends is that dogs are now being taught to read commands as well as respond to verbal commands!
Robyn said “Our goal for 2004 is to graduate 10 dogs; look for a facility and to generate salaries. This really has been a labor of love.”
The old saying, dogs are man’s (and woman’s) best friend is certainly apt for this organization.
For more information, please go to www.azpowerpaws.org