Police dogs

This May, We-Care.com is doing something special. We are dedicating a month to honor heroes. Although we might first think about capes, super powers, and secret hideouts, a real hero can come in many forms. A real hero is someone who stands up for what is right, takes a leap of faith, sacrifices for the good of others, and helps out whenever possible–even in the hardest of times. The men and women of our armed forces who protect our freedom are certainly heroes. Likewise, the law enforcement officers who keep us safe, and the firefighters who bravely risk their lives to rescue others are heroes. But heroes don’t have to human. From dogs that serve alongside our military and law enforcement personal to dogs that help the disabled and ill everyday, man’s best friend is often the perfect example of heroism. To find out more about how animals are stepping up, we reached out to Power Paws and Canine Companions for Independence. Both of these causes work with dogs who we think fit the definition of a hero pretty well. Read on and see if you agree…

Power Paws provides highly skilled assistance dogs to adults and children with disabilities, to provide education and continuing support for working assistance dog teams, and to be a resource in the community for people with disabilities. Power Paws Assistance Dogs was founded by Miss Shoshanna Abels. Miss Abels was raised in a family where community service was highly valued. Shoshanna’s family became volunteer puppy raisers for several assistance dog organizations and Shoshanna found her passion in this program. When she graduated from high school in 1999, Shoshanna studied with Dr. Bergin and graduated as The Assistance Dog Institute’s youngest student. Shoshanna returned to Scottsdale, Arizona and founded Power Paws Assistance Dogs, Inc. Power Paws Assistance Dogs became incorporated in 2001, received their 501 c 3 status and began training and placing assistance dogs. Since 2001, Power Paws has certified 96 dogs and currently has 40 dogs in training.

Brad and Vinnie1

Brad and service dog, Vinnie!

For people like Michael, who had a leg amputated from an infection he acquired while helping at the Twin Towers after 9/11. Michael wrote to Power Paws saying, “Having a loving companion that I can depend on could literally save my life. I have fallen and not been able to summon help for over a day, with a fractured elbow, knee and stump. If I had a dog to help me, he could bring me the phone so I could call for help…I can’t emphasize enough how much the love of a companion could help turn my life around….I write this to you with great hope and need.” Michael received his assistance dog within 6 months of completing his application, and after receiving his dog Michael wrote in again, “Thank you for the work you have done raising Nickel and passing him on to me. The amount of gratitude I have is hard to express. I know in the deepest recesses of my heart that I have been blessed in a way that humbles me. I can’t imagine how hard it was for you to give him up. Nickel and I have a new life to forge together, and beyond the companionship he will give me, he will make my quality of life so much better. His help in day to day situations will take much strain off of me and he will allow me to live alone safely. I now have a life partner and no dog will be loved more than my Nickel. All I can say is you have made me want to start living again.”

The work at Canine Companions is driven by a life changing mission: to help enhance the lives of children and adults with disabilities by providing highly skilled assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships. Their specially bred, highly skilled dogs assist their human partners with practical tasks in addition to providing constant companionship. They call these partnerships “teams,” and have graduated over 4,400 human/canine teams since founding in 1975. Teams are divided into four categories depending on the tasks the dog performs for the recipient: Service Dogs, Skilled Companion Dogs, Facility Dogs, and Hearing Dogs. Canine Companions’ program involves two years of training by both volunteer puppy raisers and professional trainers; in-depth professional instruction for all recipients during an on-site, two-week intensive course called Team Training; and lifelong professional support services to ensure the success of every team. Thanks to the generosity of thousands of volunteers and private donors, the recipient receives all of this at no cost. From conception to retirement, the estimated cost of each team is between $45,000 and $50,000.

Stefanie

Stefanie with service dog, Kaz!

Every assistance dog Canine Companions places has the potential to help someone like Stefanie. Before her spinal cord injury, Stefanie had just started her masters degree and was training to join the U.S. Olympic equestrian team. After the injury, she lost her sense of purpose and sometimes questioned why she was still here. She received Service Dog Kaz in 2012. Stefanie says, “The burden I felt before having Kaz was unbelievable. I felt like a burden to everyone. I don’t feel that weight holding me back anymore. I feel the joy of Kaz running forward with me next to my chair … Watch out, here we come!” Now, Stefanie and Kaz are out and about 14 hours a day attending Stefanie’s classes and going to the stables. Because Stefanie still dreams of becoming an equestrian driver for the US team, with Kaz by her side.

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