By Erica Montgomery
Posted 4/26/2010 12:34 PM
Three years ago there were no assistance dog training programs in South Carolina. So, in 2006, Jennifer Rogers started Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services, or PAALS.
PAALS trains their dogs to do much more than your average pup.
"They might be reaching for the phone, they may be hitting a canine emergency phone that goes directly to 9-1-1. They can also pick up anything that is dropped and retrieve it into the persons lap, open doors close doors, pretty much anything you can think of… turn on lights turn off lights. And of course be that unconditional friend," said Jennifer Rogers.
PAALS is currently training twelve dogs. Each dog goes through about two years of training tailored to their special talents and their future owners needs.
A. J., a one-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, is being trained to comfort a person with autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Spirit, a six-month-old black Labrador retriever, is learning how to help do laundry for someone with limited mobility.
Once their training is complete, they are paired with a person in need of their help.
PAALS held its second annual graduation ceremony to celebrate the dogs who have finished their training at PAALS, on April 10.
Grace was placed with Tate Mikell, a former Charleston police officer who was left paralyzed after a brain aneurysm. Grace opens doors and helps Tate with laundry. But Tate says it is something else she does that is most important.
"I swear Grace has it in her mind that it is her job to make me happy. She watches me to see if I'm smiling, and I swear she can see it in my mind whether I am happy or not," he says.
The other PAALS graduate, Copper, went to Jeff Hopkins, a 26 year-old with cerebral palsy, who drives a power wheelchair, and talks using a computer. He used his computer to make his speech at the ceremony.
"He picks up objects I drop and puts them in my lap. I reward him for his excellence. Thanks for sending me Copper as an assistance dog," said Jeff.
The speeches brought laughter and tears to nearly everyone at the ceremony, including Jennifer.
She sees that PAALS is not just matching a service dog with a disabled person, but creating a better life for the person and the dog, and giving a whole new meaning to the term "man's best friend."
Jennifer says the organization has grown significantly in the past three years, and she says she hopes they will see many more dogs graduating next spring.