Monday, January 17, 2022

Can YOU Help? Local PAWS Dogs Assist in Parkland


Nicki’s husband is partnered with William, so she takes time to come bond with him before he comes home to live with them.

Nicki’s husband is partnered with William, so she takes time to come bond with him before he comes home to live with them.

“At the request of the Attorney General’s Office, the FBI and Red Cross, PAWS dogs and handlers arrived in Parkland, Florida within two days of the shooting to offer crisis care and so much more to students, parents, teachers and first responders. They will remain on the scene as the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School reopens its doors to grieving and traumatized students.”

At no cost to those they serve, the PAWS Assistance Crisis Team(s) (PACT) provides early interventions to help alleviate more serious, long-term effects of trauma and PTSD that may develop after the terrible event where 17 students/teachers died. The PACT project also operates locally when needed for shortterm assistance, but they expect to help in Parkland for at least three weeks. This means that they will need donations for lodging, transportation and meals for the PAWS teams assisting in Parkland. PAWS volunteers are hoping that $15,000 will cover the costs of their interventions for the community there.

May I please come out and play?

May I please come out and play?

If you’re one of those people who wonders what you can do to help after a tragedy like this, consider making a donation that will enable our local PAWS organization to provide needed emotional support services to the people in anguish on our east coast. These volunteers, with the PAWS dogs, are donating their time away from their own homes to help others. The PACT program has an additional benefit to the dogs they are training to be placed with veterans or, in smaller numbers, to children. The dogs perform important work in their roles and will become more confident and capable as a result.

Yippee! Out to play with a new toy!

Yippee! Out to play with a new toy!

Here’s the address for your donation: PAWS Assistance Dogs, 3173 S. Horseshoe Drive Naples, FL 34104.



I hope you mailed them a check; I did. I’m going to tell you a little more about the organization, which will have you appreciating it even more.

If you love dogs and puppies, care about our veterans and children and really want to make a positive difference in someone’s life, I have a *golden opportunity* for you. PAWS is an amazing organization in Naples that screens, nurtures, trains and places golden retrievers with veterans or children that, for various reasons, need an assistance dog. The impact that one of these dogs can make in a person’s life is “heart-warming,” although “heart-stunning” is a better description.

PAWS is located in a space that they have already outgrown due to the increased need for trained service dogs. There are presently sixteen golden retrievers who live and are trained there, some of which are in transition to their new homes.

Before being selected to join the elite group of trainees, potential puppies are observed and aptitude tested along with other abilities at the breeder’s location. These pups will have lots of tasks to learn so the selection process is very important. There is a clear distinction between pets and service dogs. Pets should also be trained, but are allowed more freedom. Service dogs have strict regulations, structure and breeding and their training is rigorous. Make no mistake, service dogs are loved as much as pets, they just have a different role.

Here’s where the volunteering comes in. Would you like to help socialize the puppies (that means playing with them and loving them?) Hmmmm… let me think. The answer is YES! Would you like to learn basic puppy training and work with them as they get older? How about coming to the site and participating in an orientation that will help you know where you fit in the puppy training process?

The trainers at PAWS believe that the dog should choose its “client,” so the bond between them is based on attraction and some other mysterious connection hard to define. PAWS trainers usually try three different dogs separately to see which one gravitates to the client. When the bonding happens, “it’s magic” they say, and there is little doubt that the dog will be a faithful companion for the client chosen. If a dog shows no interest in the client, that bond is not going to move forward so they try a different dog.

While I was there, I was fortunate to meet Reno, a veteran, who had recently been matched, er, “chosen” by his service dog, Duke. After they are matched, clients, like Reno, come to the PAWS training building two times a week for several weeks to practice with support from the dog’s trainer before the dog is released to go home permanently. Lead Trainer, Sally O’Neill, explained that, “this transition builds confidence in both the veteran and the dog for future success.” PAWS trainers follow up with their partnerships and are readily available for questions or tweaking the relationships. The trainers have spent many training hours and months with their assigned dogs so it’s important that they transition their leadership and authority to the client and dog to build a strong bond. This closely monitored transition time is a key to a successful PAWS relationship.

As part of their training, the dogs are taken to other places so they have experiences and practice with many different challenges. The dogs are also brought to pre-K’s, special programs and schools so that students can read to them. I noticed that the dogs were very patient with the children when they visited the second graders from Tommie Barfield Elementary attending the “Stars on the Water” Program last year at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Marco Island. Sometimes the golden retrievers from PAWS close their eyes and imagine the sights, sounds and smells from the passages being read, but they don’t interrupt. Such good manners! It was easy to see why they have strict criteria for selecting puppies for PAWS. Psst. These outings are really training for the dogs!

Since I’m now in training to be either a “Puppy Lover” or “Puppy Handler,” I’ll keep you in the loop or on the leash for some updates and info that you might enjoy. FYI, it costs $35,000 to raise a pup, train and place him/her. That’s why volunteers are so needed and valuable to their cause. Arf-icially signing off now.

Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!

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