PAWS Service Dogs are custom-trained to assist people with physical disabilities affecting one or more limbs. Service Dogs can enhance a person’s independence by helping with tasks such as pulling a wheelchair, opening doors, turning light switches on/off or picking up objects as small as a dime. If a client falls, the dog can even act as a brace to help them up.
PAWS has trained Service Dogs to assist people who have Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Rheumatoidal Degeneration, ALS, Cerebral Palsy, spinal cord injuries and many other conditions affecting a person’s mobility or strength.
In addition to performing tasks related to a physical disability, a PAWS Dog can also be trained to assist with tasks related to a seizure disorder or hearing loss.
“MAUI has saved me from that feeling of desperation. When I drop something now, it’s no big deal.”
Ashley, PAWS Service Dog Client
Ashley is studying International Relations with a minor in Middle-Eastern Studies at Grand Valley State University. Her hope is to work with refugees and immigrants, teach English as a second language or work with students studying abroad at a university’s international center. She lives on campus so she can get the full college experience. And she has a PAWS Service Dog with her.
At 18 months old, Ashley was diagnosed with Dejerine-Sottas syndrome, a disease that causes loss of sensation and muscle mass and results in weakness of her limbs. Ashley always planned to go to college after high school, but didn’t feel anywhere close to being able to take care of herself while there. At home, just getting dressed took 45 minutes and drained her energy.
So she decided to apply for a PAWS Service Dog. “I told my parents this is something I need to do for myself,” Ashley said. “I was nervous about going to college and living on campus because my independence was limited. When I dropped something, I couldn’t pick it up because my spinal cord is fused. My parents supported me, understanding this was something I wanted to do.”
Ashley made it through a challenging freshman year while she waited for a PAWS Service Dog. Whenever she dropped a textbook, keys, phone or mittens, she had to ask someone to pick it up for her. “I really hated having to be in a situation where I had to interrupt someone to help me. It just gave them another reason to view people with disabilities as vulnerable and needy.” Ashley added, “There were many experiences like that. I was excited when I got MAUI because I knew I would never have to ask somebody to pick up my mittens again!”
Every day MAUI helps Ashley get in and out of bed, open a door or refrigerator, and pull off her clothing. Ashley says the biggest thing MAUI does is, “pick something up. She has saved me from that feeling of desperation. When I drop something now, it’s no big deal.”
Ashley’s advice to someone considering an Assistance Dog: “Don’t think you’re not disabled enough for a PAWS Dog. That was something blocking me. I can function without MAUI, I just don’t want to. It’s not you depending on a dog; it’s you and the dog working together as a team, even if it’s doing one big thing to make your life easier. It’s worth it.”
To be eligible for a PAWS Service Dog, an individual must:
If the applicant is younger than PAWS’ minimum age, visit www.assistancedogsinternational.org for a list of other ADI programs that may train for younger children.
While Paws With A Cause has established eligibility criterion for the types of Assistance Dogs we provide, we do not discriminate against any applicant based on race, color, creed, gender, religion, marital status, age, nationality, physical or mental disability, medical condition, sexual orientation, citizenship status, military service status or any other consideration as indicated by federal, state or local laws.
PAWS Service Dogs, Seizure Response Dogs and Service Dogs for Children with Autism are primarily Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and crosses of the two breeds. PAWS Hearing Dogs may be Retrievers or small breed dogs. Occasionally, PAWS has Poodles or Poodle mixes reserved for clients in need of a hypo-allergenic dog. All dogs must pass specialized health and temperament screenings to be accepted into training.
Some of our dogs are donated by private individuals or breeders, while others come from our own strategic breeding program. PAWS makes every attempt to rescue dogs from animal shelters for training when qualified dogs are available.
Due to the highly specialized nature of Assistance Dog work, we do not consider a client's own dog for training.
We do not train dogs to predict seizures, only to respond to a seizure that is happening. PAWS does not train dogs to provide weight-bearing support while walking, but may train a dog to counter-balance for a client needing mobility assistance.
PAWS Dogs have over 40 tasks they could be trained in, including retrieving and delivering dropped items, tugging to remove items of clothing and opening doors. Service Dogs may pull a lightweight manual wheelchair or turn lights on and off. Hearing Dogs primarily alert and orient clients to common sounds. Seizure Response Dogs respond to a client’s seizure by summoning help or providing stimulation. Service Dogs for Children with Autism act as a constant companion to a child to help them improve social, communication and life skills.
We do not train Guide Dogs for people who are blind, for diabetic alert/response, to anticipate or detect medical symptoms, for the primary benefit of emotional comfort, to recognize and/or manage undesirable human behavior, to provide supervision, navigation, or safety from environmental hazards, to respond aggressively, to provide personal protection or to assist with the management of mental illness (such as PTSD, etc.) as a primary condition.
People with a physical disability, hearing impairment, seizure disorder or a child with autism who can demonstrate that an Assistance Dog will enhance their independence or their quality of life are qualified to apply. PAWS can only accept a limited number of applications per year from individuals who live in areas serviced by a PAWS Field Representative. Although many individuals with disabilities are eligible and in need of an Assistance Dog, PAWS will determine and select individuals where the tasks provided by PAWS’ highly trained dogs will be of the greatest benefit.
Individuals applying for a Service or Seizure Response Dog must be at least 14 years old with age appropriate cognitive ability. Those applying for a Hearing Dog must be 18 years or older. Families applying for a Service Dog for Children with Autism must have a child with autism between 4-12 years old: application must be received by 7th birthday; Needs Assessment completed by 9th birthday; placement prior to 12th birthday.
The dog is provided at no cost to the client. However, PAWS needs to raise $30,000 to cover the cost of breeding, care, customized training and continued support of each team. The significant majority of funds raised by PAWS come from individual donors. PAWS also receives support from businesses, foundations and community groups (eg: AMVETS and AMVETS Auxiliaries, Lions and Lionesses, Order of the Eastern Star).
PAWS promotes a “pay it forward” culture. Once a client achieves certification, we encourage them to consider hosting a Personal Campaign to benefit another client still waiting for a PAWS Dog. We are happy to work with certified clients willing to fundraise on PAWS’ behalf, and have the tools to make it easy.
Accepted clients in the waiting pool for a PAWS Dog who wish to host a Personal Campaign for PAWS may do so. However, it is not a requirement to receive a PAWS Dog, nor will it help a waiting client get a dog more quickly.
For more information on giving to PAWS, click here.
From the time an application is received to the completion of the in-home Needs Assessment can be as long as 24 months. If a client is accepted into the program after the Needs Assessment, they will go into the pool of all clients waiting to be paired with a PAWS Dog. For all clients in the “waiting pool”, the search to find an appropriate dog begins right away. However, depending on the individual needs of the client, and the individual qualities of the dogs in training available, it may take another 1-4 years to find the right match.
Finding the right dog to match your specific needs, personality and environment is not an exact science. Many factors are taken into consideration, with the ultimate goal being to find the best dog to meet your unique needs. Also, not every dog successfully completes training; sometimes we must start the matching process over.
PAWS does place an Assistance Dog in homes that have cats, birds or other small caged pets. Effective September 1, 2012, no PAWS Assistance Dog will be placed in a home with any other dog, unless it is a retired PAWS Dog or working Assistance Dog from an Assistance Dogs International or International Guide Dog Federation-accredited agency for someone else in the household. It has been our experience that other dogs in the home can interfere with the bonding and training process of the Assistance Dog Team.
Typically, dogs are approximately 18-24 months old.
Clients must be able to follow through with the in-home and public (if applicable) training process with their local PAWS Field Representative. Clients must be committed to maintaining the dog’s training throughout the lifetime of the team and to providing for the well-being of the dog (veterinary care, proper grooming, exercise, etc.). It is advisable to research yearly veterinary, grooming and feeding costs in your specific area prior to applying for an Assistance Dog. Paws With A Cause provides ongoing training support for its teams.
Yes. The Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees the right of a person with a qualifying disability to be accompanied by their individually trained Assistance Animal in public venues. The Fair Housing Act allows for trained Assistance Animals in apartments or other no-pet housing at no additional cost to the person with a disability. More information can be found at www.ada.gov and www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/title8.php