Golden and Labrador retrievers are the preferred breeds to be trained as service dogs because of their intelligence and temperament. Jackson, Champ and Crosby (above) are among the 165 service dogs training with paws4people. Paws4people had humble beginnings. When founder Kyria Henry was 12, she enjoyed taking her golden retriever to visit nursing home residents. She witnessed people coming alive by petting and talking to her dog. That spark, ignited in 1999, inspired her to launch the nonprofit with the help of her father, Terry, a Vietnam veteran who suffers from PTSD. During Henry’s middle school through college years, she learned all she could about dog training and expanded her dog therapies to special education classrooms and hospitals. While managing her own nonprofit, she graduated with honors from West Virginia University, earned a master’s degree from Liberty University, and obtained a Service Dog Certification from Bergin University. Henry teaches four Assistance Dog Training courses at UNCW. Classes have grown so popular there is a waiting list to enroll. It is also the only aca-demic program of its kind offered at a state university. Service dogs in the paws4people program are with a certified trainer from birth until placement with a client, a process of about one and a half years. Golden and Labrador retrievers are primarily used, because of their intelligence and docile nature. “Puppies are born here in Wilmington and go at six weeks to one of three puppy development centers: Chapel Hill, one here, and one in the mid- Atlantic,” McPhail says. “They get crate training, basic manners, and socialization and go on outings so they won’t be afraid.” At 16 weeks old the dogs go to one of five West Virginia prisons, where they receive further training and begin to function as assistance dogs in a program called paws4prisons. The more than 130 trainers in the prisons are female and male inmates, some of whom may be in a maximum-security setting. The inmates teach the dogs basic commands, retrieving, how to interrupt panic attacks, and more than 120 other specialized commands. “The rehabilitative effect the dogs have on the inmates during their time in the paws4prisons program is quite astounding,” McPhail says. 48 WBM march 2016 “It is truly a life-changing opportunity for our inmate trainers, one which brings positivity and success in a way that most of the inmates have never experienced in their lives.” A dog is paired with a client during the paws4prisons phase, in a process called a “bump.” Six-month-old dogs self-select who they will be helping by initially bonding with the client. A 2012 paws4people YouTube video docu-ments clients arriving at a prison to meet the service dogs in training. A veteran seeking Service dogs in the paws4people program are with a certified trainer from birth until placement with a client, a process of about one and a half years.
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