By Diana Hammell
Marcie Jenson has been working with dogs for 25 years. Since December 2009 she’s been working with and training service dogs. Jenson, along with her partner Cheryl Clayton, have created Paws 4 Independence, a non-profit organization that specializes in training and providing service dogs for adults, children and veterans. These dogs become more than man’s best friend; their owners depend on them for their well being and in some cases, ultimately, their lives.
Jenson is a certified dog trainer and also holds a degree as a veterinary technician. Jenson, Clayton and the volunteers at Paws 4 Independence have a goal to provide support for those individuals that can benefit from what these dogs can supply. They can provide a puppy or a young adult dog to be trained specifically for a person’s needs. If someone already has a dog, they can test the dog’s personality type to see if it can be taught to help its owner.
“I believe in the potential for dogs to help humans with safety alerts for medical conditions,” Linda Butterworth said. Butterworth is a volunteer and member of the advisory committee for Paws 4 Independence. “These dogs help those with diabetes, seizure alerts, psychiatric issues, disabilities, PTSD, depression, anxiety, panic attack and early stage dementia – all areas of uncharted waters for dogs.”
Jenson said she doesn’t know what they would do without volunteers like Butterworth. “We have awesome volunteers,” Jenson said. “We, as volunteers, help train, do janitorial work, fundraising, anything they ask us to do,” Butterworth said.
The dogs come from all over. Jenson and Clayton have European boxers themselves, but clients may supply their own dogs, and breeders have donated some puppies in honor of veterans who have served. “Sometimes the dog finds the person. One dog can fulfill an individual’s need,” Butterworth said. “I love to hear the stories of how the dogs have helped,” Jenson said.
“It’s very expensive to get a service dog, from $27,000 to $30,000 for a dog. Most people don’t have the financial means to afford that,” Jenson said.
“What they do here at Paws 4 Independence sucked me right in,” Butterworth said. “We are a formal non-profit organization now. We are in the process of filing for 501(c)(3) status and can accept tax-free donations.” These donations go a long way toward training and supplying dogs to people who need them. Before, Jenson and Clayton were doing what they could mostly on their own dime on a one-on-one basis.
Veterans need dogs
Jenson travels to the Tomah Veteran’s Hospital every week to talk to the veterans and educate staff on the service dogs and what they can do. “These people should have access to a dog that works for them – these dogs save lives,” Jenson said.
Veterans have been known to seclude themselves upon returning from deployment. Clients of Paws 4 Independence are committed to come to training classes with their dog twice per week. While at these classes the vets socialize with members of the class, including other veterans who they share stories of their dogs with. “They get out of the house and they think about something other than themselves for that time,” Jenson said.
Strays and rescues
Jenson and Clayton do animal control for the towns of Spring Grove, Brownsville and Hokah. All the strays and rescued dogs from those towns come home to the farm. Hopefully from there they move on to good new homes, and some have even worked out to be trainable as service dogs.
“We’re always looking for people who are willing to foster dogs,” Butterfield said. “This could be for a month or a year, and the foster “parents” must be willing to bring the dogs to training classes.
The classes are Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Hmong Cultural Center on Ward Avenue in La Crosse, and they also have a class at the farm outside of Caledonia on Saturdays. Persons interested in fostering, or someone interested in the dogs, may attend a training class and observe. “We have non-traditional classes,” Clayton said. “We have fun.”
Fosters are encouraged to take dogs out into the community to socialize them. Paws 4 Independence supplies the vests for these dogs to wear while they’re out and “working.” The dogs know that when they’re wearing their vest they’re working, and when the vest comes off, so does the “on-guard” attitude. Individuals should not pet a dog while it’s on duty with their owner. If you really can’t help yourself, however, you may ask if you may pet the dog. If the owner allows you to pet their service animal, they should remove the vest while you do so. Sometimes the dog may be grateful for the “break,” and the owner is happy to provide that for their animal.
One of the Paws 4 Independence seizure alert dogs lays down on top of its owner while the owner is seizuring. When the ambulance arrives, the seizure rocker patch on the vest tells the EMTs why the dog is on top of its owner and they know how to proceed.
“One of our clients is a nine-year-old girl with diabetes,” Jenson said. Her dog alerted multiple times that his owner’s blood sugar was at dangerous levels. One day the child was getting on the bus for school when the dog wouldn’t allow her to board the bus. The girl’s mother asked her if she checked her blood sugar that morning and she said she had. The dog still refused to let her by, and the dog had never been wrong. The girl’s mother decided to bring the girl inside to check her blood and found that the girl had forgotten to check her blood sugar and was at very dangerous levels.
Service dogs are covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ADA defines these animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with PTSD during an anxiety attack or performing other duties. Service dogs are working animals, not pets. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”
Under the ADA, state and local governments and businesses that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service dog from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment. Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals.
The dogs must be under control of its owner through voice, signal or other effective controls and harnessed or leashed. A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or if the dog is not housebroken. Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service dogs in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises. Establishments that clearly post a “no pets” sign must allow a service animal to enter; service animals are not pets.
Jenson and Clayton also board dogs at their farm. The dogs aren’t crated up while their owners are on vacation, but sleep in the house with them at night and romp outside with other friendly dogs during the day when the weather allows. “It’s only respectful to treat other dogs as I would want my own dogs treated,” Jenson said.
Photos of the dogs, class information, testimonials and other information can be found on their website at www.paws4independence.com. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and they can be reached at 507-724-1152 or 507-459-2820.
A chicken que to benefit Paws 4 Independence will be held on Thursday, May 30 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Hmong Culture Center in La Crosse. They will deliver in the La Crosse/Onalaska area.
“Smooches to the pooches”
Julia Crawford at Pawsh Pet in Caledonia provides “purrfurred” pet sitting.
Upon entering Pawsh Pet on Kingston Street in Caledonia, a visitor will wonder if he walked into a pastry shop instead of the groomer’s. The fancy treats in the glass case are intended for pets, although there’s nothing in them that a human couldn’t eat, too. They certainly look good enough for people – especially the ones dipped in yogurt frosting.
Besides grooming and other spa-type treatments, such as applying nail polish, Crawford will visit homes to care for an animal while the family is gone. This way a pet will benefit from staying in its own home where it feels safe and secure with all the familiar sights, smells and sounds. Crawford will visit the pet several times a day, allowing it to follow its regular diet and exercise routine with extended play time. Crawford provides love and personal attention and will maintain medical treatment when required.
Crawford will also switch lights on or off, bring mail in and water plants. She is a former certified veterinary technician and will care for dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, fish, Guinea pigs, lizards, snakes or whatever pet that needs care while a family is away for awhile. She will also care for animals at hobby farms.
Pawsh Pet is open from Tuesday through Saturday at 112 S. Kingston Street in Caledonia and the phone number is 507-725-8885.