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Published: Friday, 5/10/2013

Dog graduates ready to give a helping paw

Families praise assistants at ceremony

BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Hannah Hagman, 5, looks up at her brother Connor’s new therapy dog, Murray, during the Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence’s spring graduation Thursday in Maumee. Hannah Hagman, 5, looks up at her brother Connor’s new therapy dog, Murray, during the Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence’s spring graduation Thursday in Maumee.
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There was not a dry eye in the house when Lissa Vollmar, the keynote speaker at Thursday night’s spring graduation of the Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence, finished her story about how a standard poodle, Haise, had changed the life of not just her son, but the entire family.

“We had no idea how much effect a therapy dog would have on our life,” said Mrs. Vollmar of Bowling Green, whose young son Owen has many ailments, including a blood clotting disorder, epilepsy, a heart condition, autism, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The family received Haise, a standard poodle, last year.

“After only one week, I could feel a difference in our home,” she said. “Owen was much less anxious.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Assistance dogs graduate

Mrs. Vollmar said it makes her happy and hopeful to hear her son talking to the dog.

“My son now smiles from the inside out and I smile from another room when I hear him talking to his new best friend,” she said.

Another previous recipient of a dog, Amy Burk, attended the dinner event at Parkway Place in Maumee with Evan, her 3-year-old yellow Labrador retriever service dog.

“Evan has made a huge difference in my life and my husband’s life,” said Mrs. Burk of Bowling Green, who has a blood clotting disorder that necessitates her legs constantly be raised. “Before I got Evan, my husband Jim was basically my service dog. Every time I dropped something, he was there to pick it up. Now Evan does it.”

Four therapy dogs and four service dogs graduated from the program. During the graduation ceremony, the trainers and foster volunteers who have gotten the dogs ready for their new homes walked each dog across the stage to meet the recipient of the dog in the middle for the ceremonial hand-off.

The therapy dogs have been with their new owners since the beginning of April, and the service dogs went to their new owners last week. After graduation, the new owners and dogs are on a probationary period. The group has an extensive follow-up program that includes regular trainer contact and home visits, said Jenny Barlos, the assistance-dog group’s client services director.

The therapy dogs went to a home in Okemos, Mich.; to schools in Fostoria and Bryan City, and to the Daughter Project in Toledo, a nonprofit organization that aids sex-trafficking survivors. The service dogs went to homes in Bowling Green; Livonia, Mich.; Cleveland Heights, and Swanton.

Mark Damschroder, left, snaps a photo of Maddie Conkey, 2, with her grandmother Lisa Damschroder and therapy dog Ginger, which they fostered. Mark Damschroder, left, snaps a photo of Maddie Conkey, 2, with her grandmother Lisa Damschroder and therapy dog Ginger, which they fostered.
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Six of the dogs were trained by inmates at the Toledo Correctional Institution in conjunction with foster homes that take the dog for one “furlough” week each month.

“It gives the dogs exposure to all the things that go along with living in a home,” said Gale Tedhams of Sylvania Township, who, along with her husband Frank Booth, fostered three of the four therapy dogs. She and her husband have volunteered for five years.

“Every day, the dog goes to work with one of us,” she said. “And we take them to restaurants, grocery stores, any place in public where the person receiving them might be going.”

Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence is a program of the Ability Center in Sylvania Township. The nonprofit group places between 17 and 21 service and therapy dogs in the tri-state area each year.

Each dog costs about $20,000 to raise and train, said Rhonda DeKonick, the assistance dog group’s manager of marketing and outreach. Except for a small application and equipment fee, there is no direct cost to the person who gets the dog.

The training program for the dogs is extensive. Dogs are trained to have skills that meet each clients’ individual needs, Ms. Barlos said.

After evaluators determine a dog meets initial requirements, the program places dogs with volunteer foster families who complete socialization and basic obedience training under the guidance of the training staff.

Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence’s professional training staff complete the final three months of training at the facility and incorporate the matching of a dog with a person.

Anyone in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana who has a disability and requires assistance with daily tasks can apply for a dog. More information on obtaining a dog or becoming a foster family is available from Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence by calling 419-885-5733, or at adai.org.

Contact Tanya Irwin at: tirwin@theblade.com or 419-724-6066.



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