15 June 2016

INTERVIEW - Deb Davis, Paws With a Cause - A Leader in the Assistance Dog Industry

Service dogs have historically been a great asset to persons living with vision impairment. In more recent years, the roles of service dogs have expanded to include assisting persons living with a range of disabilities or conditions, such as autism, asthma, seizures, brain injuries, PTSD and Lupus.
InfoStream caught up with Deb Davis, Community Outreach Manager with Paws With A Cause – a service dog training centre based out of Wayland, MI. The centre does custom training of service dogs, hearing dogs, service dogs for children with autism and seizure response dogs.
Davis shares some insights about the benefits of the relationship between service dogs and their humans, as well as some perspective on the growth of their segment of service dogs for children with autism.
InfoStream (IS): What makes working with service dogs special or unique for you?
Deb Davis (DD): What makes this work unique and special for me is our clients – people with disabilities who are able to change their life because of their assistance dog. They are some of the most amazing people I will ever know in my life, and my life has changed because of them.
IS: Your organization trains dogs to assist people in a variety of capacities, including seizure response, vision and hearing impairment and autism - could you please share with us how some of these newer areas have grown in popularity over the last few years?
DD: Training service dogs for children with autism has really caught on in the past five years. Our organization did a two-year study with an organization in Canada, prior to launching our own three-year pilot program for this discipline. At PAWS, we don't just train a dog and then hand over the leash and say 'have a nice life'. We work with the clients for 4 - 6 months, after their dog has already been trained specially for them for 4-6 months. That's a lot of time and a huge commitment on the client's part. So, when families who are living with autism reach out to apply for a dog, we feel honored to be able to provide them with another 'tool' in their autism toolbox.
Families who live with children with autism already have a lot of things to handle in their lives: the child, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, play dates, school, etc. For them to accept a service dog into their lives is a great indication of their commitment to making their child's world one step easier.
Our Seizure Response Dog Program's popularity is another testament to our clients - people who want to live independently, yet live in constant fear that a seizure could severely hurt them or worse, kill them. We have clients who have a seizure response dog because they want to live alone, yet are fearful of suffocating in their pillow if they have a seizure during the night. That's pretty intense. Yet, they feel completely relieved of that fear by living with their seizure response dog. We have one client whose parents would not let him go off to college and live in the dorms until he could prove to them that he would work with his seizure response dog. I'm happy to say, they graduated.
IS: What does PAWS want people to know about what it is that makes an assistance dog more effective compared to human assistance options in some regards?
DD: The dog/human bond is an incredible thing to witness...for the human to be able to put their 100% trust in their dog is really a miracle before our eyes. The dog is a constant in their lives, 24 hours per day, day and night. Dogs don't have bad days, like aides do; dogs don't need batteries, like technology and machines do; medications reach a plateau of effectiveness and can change a person's behavior and reaction to stimuli; dogs don't. People who are hearing impaired/deaf who have a cochlear implant are still hearing impaired/deaf when they take off that cochlear implant; that's when they are most vulnerable. The dog is there as a constant reminder that they have someone to trust, and someone or something that is reliable and will take care of them.
(Paws With a Cause)
IS: What would you say to a parent with a child on the autism spectrum who is contemplating a service dog?
DD: After placing more than two dozen service dogs with children with autism, we've asked those parents what would they tell someone in this situation. Their overwhelming response has been "Do it!" Their fears were about having enough time to dedicate to the dog and when they realize that the dog folds into their already-established lifestyles, that fear is gone!

By Lindsay Seewalt
Lindsay is an experienced journalist and mother of three whose heart and home is always open to a four­-legged friend. With her Corgi, Angie, as household editor-­in-chief, Lindsay gives back to the animal planet through the written word on anything and all ado about pets. She is passionate about topics regarding animal welfare and responsible pet ownership, which she aims to instill in both her readers and children to be compassionate animal lovers who are conscious and considerate that furry friends around the globe deserve a voice.

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