Take a Bow Wow Wow // Assistance Dogs Open Doors to Fuller Lives

By Wendy Wallace

Need a committed worker and friend who day in, day out brings a positive outlook and willingness to help? Assistance dogs northwest (ADN) has a few furry candidates on Bainbridge Island. Established by executive director Maureen Maurer, the nonprofit trains and provides service dogs to children and adults with disabilities for more independent living.

After a health scare 17 years ago, Maurer sold her accounting practice and turned what was then a volunteer activity into a career
filled with passion. “I really felt like this was my purpose,” she said. Maurer initially founded Assistance Dogs Hawaii and went on to
advise other programs starting up in international locations.

But because of a growing demand for service dogs regionally, Maurer, along with husband Will, created a second campus on Bainbridge
in 2016 to better serve the Pacific Northwest.

Their furry graduates can head into service partnered with an individual, into facilities service helping in hospitals and nursing homes, or into prosecutors’ offices and courthouses as victim support. No matter the environment, the dogs steadfastly offer comfort and support to vulnerable humans, young and old.

All Labradors or golden retrievers, the canines hail from international litters from long lines of professional service dogs. “Our puppies
are purpose-bred for assistance work,” said Maurer. Their traits such as service, intelligence, focus, companionship and a calm disposition ensure successful partnerships.

At seven weeks, puppies get assigned to volunteer puppy-training families for approximately 10 months. But it’s not just puppy playtime.

The families are responsible for attending weekly training classes, doing homework and preparing their young students for their careers.

At a year old, the dogs move in with a professional trainer who teaches 90 commands over the next six to 12 months. Throughout the process, the puppies are screened for health and temperament issues that could impact their service capabilities or ability to on and off and, his personal favorite, pushes automatic door buttons for Clark, who uses a wheelchair.

The greatest impact may come from the companionship and bonding the dogs give their partners. Some young recipients living with disabilities get a pal and an instant icebreaker at their side in otherwise potentially stressful situations, like a new classroom or meeting.

Along with functional assistance, a day has brought,” she said. Not all dogs, no matter how adorable, are ultimately cut out for a life
of service. A waitlist for service academy flunkies does exist, and yes, it’s long.

Though Maurer corrected, “We don’t refer to them as flunkies, we prefer the term ‘career change.” For dog-loving volunteers wanting a shorter commitment while still helping the mission, ADN has another list for volunteer relief families, satisfactorily match with
applicants.

After months or even a year of waiting, nothing offers more relief or excitement than the day an applicant finally receives her new partner. For islander Jenna Clark, getting Ranger, a black Lab, has been a life changer.

“Working with him, training with him and walking him has given me a confidence I’d lost in the last few years,” said Clark. Among other tasks, Ranger turns lights service dog helps create connection with others while calming their partner.

After living with his service dog Nelson, 7-yearold Ian said, “I finally have a best friend.” The positive emotional and physical impact of the service animals cannot be underestimated.

“Many recipients have lived better and much longer than expected having an assistance dog,” said Maurer. Clark concurred. “He makes me smile no matter what my enlisted for times the official puppy training families are in need of a few days of puppy sitting.  ADN is supported solely by private donations and grants, when available.

The organization plans to have an annual fundraiser event on Bainbridge Island in the coming months and welcomes donations, community outreach opportunities and volunteers. More information at assistancedogsnorthwest.org.

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