“I had no idea.” We hear that comment at least once each time we host a PAWS for Lunch tour.
Guests who attend one of our monthly events learn about PAWS history, tour the three buildings on our 8-acre campus, and meet some of our staff, volunteers and a client. Most folks who come to PAWS for Lunch are from the greater West Michigan area.
But here’s the thing: PAWS has friends in all 50 states. About half live in Michigan. Of those, about a third live in West Michigan. So we thought – since so many are unable to attend in person – we’d create a virtual tour here for you to enjoy any time. And, if you ever do find yourself in the neighborhood, just call us at 800-253-7297 to arrange a time to stop by – we’d love to see you!
PAWS National Headquarters is nestled amid commercial firms and farmland in Wayland, Michigan, about 20 miles south of Grand Rapids.
We got our start in the late 1970s, when a friend asked if PAWS co-founder and current CEO Mike would train his dog for him. Mike’s friend and his wife are deaf, and they had just adopted a young child. They wanted their dog to alert them when he cried, and to other common sounds.
Mike wasn’t sure he could do what they’d asked, but agreed to give it a try. Confirmation he’d succeeded came the night he went to his friends’ house for their regular training session and was greeted by a roomful of people. Mike thought at first they were all there to observe. “Oh, no,” said Mike’s friend, “they’re all deaf. They want you to train their dogs, too.”
Since then, PAWS has grown and prospered. We’ve placed more than 2,600 Assistance Dogs with people with disabilities over the last 36 years. In 2014, we served more than 400 Client Dog Teams across 28 states. We received more than 2,000 application requests for PAWS Dogs.
PAWS Headquarters includes a training apartment, built so our dogs can practice their tasks in a home-like setting akin to those they’ll live and work in with their clients. The apartment is wired to our video room, so trainers can remotely monitor and correct a dog’s behavior if need be.
PAWS trains four types of Assistance Dogs – Service, Hearing, Seizure Response and Service Dogs for Children with Autism. A specially-designed temperament test helps us identify dogs best-suited for each. PAWS Dogs go through three phases of training – obedience, retrieve, and custom. Combined, they take from four to nine months, depending on the type of dog and tasks necessary for the client.
PAWS Dogs can learn dozens of tasks – from alerting to sounds, retrieving dropped items or pulling up bed covers to opening doors, turning off lights or offering comfort during a seizure. Watching them in action is always amazing!
PAWS’ Vet Team operates in our Canine Evaluation Center (CEC). The facility includes a surgical room where Dr. Jeanne (PAWS’ Veterinarian) spays or neuters and does other routine procedures for our dogs. She and Theresa, our Vet Tech, can even perform C-sections when one of our Mama Dogs might need one.
All PAWS Dogs have their elbows and hips x-rayed to be sure they’re strong and healthy. Dr. Jeanne sees each PAWS Puppy as many as eleven times before it even begins formal training. It’d cost an average of $1,300 per puppy for those same services at a local vet’s office. In 2014, 116 PAWS puppies were born. Without our own Vet Team, it would’ve cost more than $150,000 just for their health care!
Our PAWS Dog Volunteer Team makes their home in the Canine Development Facility (CDF). Developing a successful Assistance Dog involves nature and nurture. Our Volunteers cover the nurture.
Breeding Dog Hosts care for our Mama and Papa Dogs and help us whelp the puppies that will come back to PAWS at 18 months old for their formal training. Each PAWS Puppy lives for about 16 months with a Raiser who teaches them basic obedience, takes them to all the types of places they may go with their clients…and gives them lots of love!
PAWS Dog Volunteers like Missy and her family will all admit that turning each puppy back in to PAWS is by far the hardest part of a process that involves a lot of dedicated work and effort. But they also agree that knowing their dog will go on to change a client’s life makes it all worth it.
If our PAWS Dog Volunteers cover the nurture part of developing a successful Assistance Dog, our Breeding Team focuses on the nature side. Making sure we have the right dogs to meet our clients’ needs is one of our biggest challenges. Over time, we’ve found that breeding our own dogs is a more cost-effective and successful way to address that challenge.
Our Breeding Coordinator Dawn works with a select group of Mama and Papa Dogs to produce healthy puppies with the temperaments and physical traits needed to thrive as working dogs. She carefully reviews pedigrees and analyzes pairings to ensure the most successful outcomes. Cryogenics and other reproductive technologies help us preserve strong lines and return some Breeding Dogs to Assistance Dog training and eventual placement with a client.
No one can tell the PAWS story like a client.
Mary is a long-time PAWS client - she was paired with Service Dog PRINGLE for ten years, and now has Successor Dog KALA. Each helped transform disability into ability and give Mary independence she didn't have before.