Shelter dogs to service dogs

by Sue on December 27, 2012

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Dogs give their partners independence

Updated: Friday, 21 Dec 2012, 11:03 PM CST
Published : Friday, 21 Dec 2012, 7:24 PM CST

Leslie Rhode

Dripping Springs (KXAN) – Out in the rolling hills of Dripping Springs west of Austin, there is a new beginning happening at the Texas Hearing and Service Dogs organization. Dogs that once were in animal shelters across the state are getting a fresh start. Each year the group trains service and hearing dogs to be paired up with people who need them for independence. The class of 2013 is the group’s largest class to date in its nearly twenty-five year history. Fifteen dogs do not spend much time in kennels, but in training to ultimately change lives.

A service dog helps a person with everyday tasks to provide a greater sense of independence and dignity. The dog may help a person in a wheel chair pick up something that was dropped, open a door or fetch a bottle of water from the refrigerator. The Texas Hearing and Service Dogs group professionally trains the dogs and matches them up with their human friends, offering the dog and the training free of charge. The group relies on donations to make the partnerships happen.

“Animals are the kind of technology that you can hug, and I think there’s a lot of value in that,” said Sheri Soltes the Founder and President of Texas Hearing and Service Dogs.”

All of the dogs are hand picked by the trainers from shelters. To get the class of 2013 together, trainers went to 21 different shelters across the state and looked at more than 4,000 dogs to find the 15 dogs.

“The goal is to find a dog that is pretty gregarious, laid back and relaxed,” said Director of Training Al Kordowski. “The thing that’s going to distinguish them is their energy level, their attentiveness to us and being able to be calm. On the other hand with a hearing dog, we want them to be a little more extroverted and quite aware of everything in their environment.”

Director of Training Al Kordowski and others have that knack of finding shelter dogs with the perfect qualities to be service dogs. Watson is a black lab-mastiff mix from Williamson County who was sick in the shelter when they found him and still has a bullet in his front leg. Mocha is also a mixed breed who is naturally so alert to sounds, she will likely work with a hearing impaired person.

“There’s a place for all of these dogs,” said Kordowski. “There’s a home for all these dogs. You can find a place for these dogs looking for homes. We can go and we can save these dogs.”

“We invest $20,000 in a year into training each dog,” said Sheri Soltes, the Founder and President of Texas Hearing and Service Dogs. “We custom train it for its disabled partner, and we give the dog away to the person free of charge. So donations are what sponsor all of the training and things you’re seeing here — making these miracles happen.”

The miracles Soltes is referring to happen with each new class of service dogs. It is a miracle opening a new world for a person in need and a once unwanted dog.

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