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These dogs are training to be amazing

I just watched a short YouTube video about the locally based organization Dogs for Better Lives (formerly Dogs for the Deaf).

The presentation shows three examples of lives having been radically changed for the better by an assistance or therapy dog. I should have had a tissue handy, but I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

Dogs for the Deaf was founded in 1977 by Roy G. Kabat, former trainer of exotic and domestic animals for movies and television, including Leo, the MGM lion. One year ago they changed their name to better reflect the expanding need. They place approximately 30 dogs around the country every year, with a goal of increasing that number to 60 to 80 dogs.

Recently I visited their amazing new training facility in Central Point. Harvey Potts, chief development officer, met me along with John Drach, training director and designer of the well planned layout. John gave me the royal tour. It was an eye-opening experience.

Proper care of the animals is an obvious priority. The cleanliness of the entire operation boggled my mind, as in, spic and spanking clean with zero doggie odor.

“We are in the business of training dogs to help people and make their lives better,” John explained. They begin by improving the lives of rescue dogs. Air-conditioned vans search from LA to Seattle for dogs of various and mixed breeds suitable for their purpose. There’s a small breeding program because of a lack of availability to meet the growing need. Nine puppies will soon appear through a puppy-cam on their website, according to Harvey.

The name changed when they realized that many individuals in need were not deaf. Autistic children have become a major focus of DBL.

“The CDC says one in 56 children will be born with or contract some level of autism,” John said. He explained how an autism dog can assist in their care.

“One thing about dogs with kids on the spectrum is that there’s no questioning, there’s no judgment. The dogs love unconditionally. If you have a child who is nonverbal and is working on speech, the child can help give the dog commands and work on name and parts of the dog. If they have a problem with dexterity or with tactile issues, they can help by brushing the dog or they could help by putting the harness on and doing the fine motor skills of putting the clips together. Many children with autism bolt. They just run. ... The dog in public is tethered to the child by a wrist strap connected to the harness. And whenever that bungee tightens, they feel a pressure and the dog sits down and acts as an anchor. ... Probably the biggest thing we do is what we call ‘settle.’ The dog will go to a blanket or bed area on the floor ... and they can just relax together, and it brings the anxiety level down.”

Many lives have been transformed since the organization’s humble beginnings in the Applegate Valley. A caring and dedicated staff accounts for much of their success. But they wouldn’t exist without community support. Donations from small to grand-sized and volunteers who walk dogs, man the phones (like Eric), and foster pups make the healing cycle go around.

Dogs for Better Lives is always looking for people to foster puppies, requiring about a one-year commitment. I wondered how easy it would be to give up a dog after the year, but John said, “Trainers who have done this say, ‘I love my dog too much to keep them. I know what they’re capable of.’”

If you’re considering a donation to DBL, they rank among the top 100 nonprofits in the country. Eighty-six cents of each dollar goes to the dogs, I mean, to the program.

After hearing about this organization for years, it was gratifying to really see and appreciate their professional effort to improve the lives of many.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.