Give a toast to Paws With a Cause
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EVERSON – The terms seeing-eye dog, service animal, or assistance dog conjure up images of a four-legged friend leading someone with a cane and dark sunglasses across a busy street. But in the world of the service animal, the blind make up only about 10 percent of the people these amazing creatures are capable of helping.

Paws With a Cause is a national non-profit organization that trains dogs to perform myriad tasks for individuals who suffer from a range of limitations, including partial paralysis and other conditions.

These dogs are truly special, and this Saturday you’ll have a chance to see them demonstrate their talents at a wine tasting fundraiser for Paws With a Cause. The organization is hosting a benefit event, “Wines Vines and Canines” at the Samson Estate Winery in Everson. Those who attend will be able to witness several dogs demonstrating their talents, bid on items in a silent auction, and of course, sample some wine and cheese.
Not only are the dogs able to answer the phone, turn on lights, activate alarm buttons and pick up things as small as a dime and as big as crow bar – they offer lifetime companionship for those whose independence has been limited by disease or disability.

“These dogs provide a sense of independence and dignity,” Kathleen Dwyer, Regional Administrator for Paws With A Cause, said. “Because they are individually trained, there is a mass of different tasks they can perform. The dog can help move you from (a wheelchair) and put you to bed. The dog can pull down a blanket, get you into bed, bring the remote, and get a soda from the fridge.”

According to its national headquarters in Michigan, “Paws With A Cause (first called Ears for the Deaf) was started in 1979 when Michael Sapp, Sr. offered to help a friend. Marty Jansen and his wife, Dianne, wanted to know if he would train their Cairn Terrier, “Crystal,” as a hearing dog. Soon other deaf and hard-of-hearing people appeared in the Jansen home each week, asking if they could have their dogs trained. In 1979, guide dog schools alone made up the assistance dog community. They operated with residential team training programs, but the service and hearing dog field was in its infancy.

Only a few small organizations existed to train dogs for the majority of the disabled population, which included those individuals with the most severely limiting disabilities. While many people think of seeing-eye dogs, approximately 97 percent of all people with disabilities are not blind. They are physically challenged in some other way and very few dogs were being trained to work with them.

In 1998, an independent university study showed that each trained dog saved $16,000 per year in in-home health care provider costs, a cost that has greatly increased in the last eight years, Dwyer said.

“The cost to train, breed and provide the assistant dog and lifetime team commitment training exceeds $18,000 to the organization,” she said.

A donor-based organization, Paws With a Cause operates on grants from disability funds and individual donations with no federal funding. The dogs are available to those who qualify at no cost.

Most of the dogs begin their careers as puppies. To acclimate to different public spaces, they are taken around the community they will work in before heading to Michigan for formal training.

Although Paws With a Cause focuses on bred puppies, they have been able to save animals from shelters, train them and put them into productive service in communities across the country.

According to their web site, “Three years ago we were able to rescue 260 dogs to begin our training. Last year only 80 usable shelter dogs were found. This is a 70 percent decrease in just three years. We have spoken to other organizations across the country that use shelter dogs and all attest to the growing lack of appropriate dogs from shelter sources. Most of these are smaller organizations that train three to 12 dogs each year.”

“Our dogs help people just as dogs have been doing for thousands of years,” Dwyer said, “with companionship and assistance.”