paws4people™: Shedding Light on the Limitless World of Assistance Dogs
paws4people™: Shedding Light on the Limitless World of Assistance Dogs

Categories: Community Life, Veterans & Military

By Guest Blogger Kyria Henry, Founder, paws4people

In this day and age, many of us who are friends and advocates of people with disabilities are constantly astonished by the continued lack of progress in our fellow Americans’ understanding and acceptance of people with different abilities and the assistive technologies they employ. At least, I know that I am.

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kyria Henry, and in 1999, at the age of 12, I founded the nonprofit, paws4people™, fulfilling my simple dream to use dogs as a means of helping people. With the assistance of my father, we launched this program to enhance the lives of special and regular education students, seniors and those living with a serious illness or disability by utilizing the “special powers” of canine companionship. Our highly-trained Assistance Dogs provide support in areas including: mobility service, psychiatric service, educational assistance, rehabilitative assistance and social-therapy. 

To date, paws4people™ has more than 175 dogs within its various specialized programs. These dogs have accomplished more than 300,000 therapeutic contacts. Additional dogs are in various stages of their training and will also enter these working programs. In all, paws4people™ has more than 150 volunteers and operates in nine states. 

Presently, we specialize in training customized Assistance Dogs for two general populations: children and adolescents with physical, neurological, psychiatric or emotional disabilities; and Veterans and active-duty Service Members with Chronic/Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and/or Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).

Working in, developing and progressing the field of Assistance Dogs for the past 12 plus years, I have discovered countless times that the lack of acceptance, which impacts Americans with disabilities on a daily basis, readily extends to the Assistance Dogs so highly trained and relied upon to serve those individuals.

Almost everyone today is aware of the service Dog Guides provide to people who are blind; and the ways we should interact (or rather, not interact) with them in public – the fact that they have access to absolutely any public place with their handler who is blind and so forth. More recently, the public has become accustomed to people with obvious mobility limitations, namely those who use wheelchairs, being accompanied by Mobility Service Dogs. Credit for this increased awareness is due to the many organizations nationwide – and now worldwide – that are placing Mobility Service Dogs, as well as increasing publicity and awareness of them and their importance in the lives of people with disabilities.

However, there are many newer, unique applications of Assistance Dogs with which people are still unfamiliar. As such, their role, necessity and access rights are often questioned. As an organization that specializes in training and placing many of these “newer” types of Assistance Dogs, paws4people™ has recognized the vast need for education on this issue, as with so many others the world of disabilities has and will continue to face.

For example, in the philosophy of paws4people™, a child with a disability has equal potential gain from the use of an Assistance Dog as an adult with a disability. We believe that children and adolescents can and should be considered as clients and be taught how to utilize a custom-trained Assistance Dog to mitigate the effects of their disability. In these instances, proper training and utilization of an Assistance Dog allows a child with a disability to independently perform tasks that are common for his or her peers. Over time, this negates the necessity of over-dependence on adults and aids, hence allowing the child to grow and mature more like their typically developing peers. This, in our philosophy, is the very essence of independence – and helping a person to gain independence is the most commonly stated role of an Assistance Dog.

As another example, paws4people™, through our paws4vets™ program, is specializing in placing Psychiatric Service Dogs with Veterans and active-duty Service Members with psychiatric or emotional diagnoses as a result of PTSD and/or TBI. These dogs must perform tasks for the benefit of these Veterans with disabilities; and it should be mentioned that simply providing emotional support does not qualify*. Many of these recipients have “invisible disabilities” and consequently, their use of Assistance Dogs and rights to gain access with their dogs to any public venue are questioned more readily than a handler of an Assistance Dog whose disability is visible. Therefore, we feel it is important for people to learn and understand that these dogs, when utilized correctly and within the confines of the law, are providing invaluable services to their users by allowing them to further their recovery and return to their previous lifestyles. This is yet another example of priceless, well-deserved independence.

I hope that these few examples have served to broaden your consideration and understanding of Assistance Dogs in our society. The mission of paws4people™ is to widen the scope of education about the limitless world of Assistance Dogs, the countless jobs they can perform and the wonderful recipients they so loyally and lovingly serve. So the next time you see a dog working in your neighborhood grocery store or politely laying under a table at your favorite restaurant, realize that the person on the other end of the leash might be someone you least expect. In fact, the Assistance Dog might be serving someone without you even being able to identify the reasons why and how. But isn’t that what the world of different abilities is about? Teaching ourselves and others to un-train our brains and expect the unexpected – that every individual is capable of achieving anything, regardless of the way their body or mind goes about doing it – even if it requires the help of a dog.

At just 12 years old, Kyria Henry founded paws4people, and later paws4vets, training and pairing service dogs with Veterans, active duty Service Members, children, seniors and individuals living with disabilities or serious illnesses. In 2011, she was recognized as the grand-prize winner in Ikea’s national Life Improvement Sabbatical Contest, where she received $100,000 to spend a year focusing on helping others through her organization.

25 Responses to paws4people™: Shedding Light on the Limitless World of Assistance Dogs

  1. Alaa says:

    Thank you for a really good read. I’m a little floored by the idea that dogs should not only view loyalty the way humans do, but be better at it than 99.9% of humans in most situations. I don’t show up at work every day because my boss is a rock star, I do it because I get paid. Heck, even with family members and spouses, where there’s a huge level of personal loyalty, there still has to be give and take. You don’t see marital counselors argue that I’m destroying my relationship with my husband if I say, “Hey, I’ll make breakfast if you feed the dog and cats.” There are actually plenty of things my dog will do without food rewards. She will follow me or my husband pretty much wherever, and we’ve never offered her treats for getting into the car on command. But I’m pretty sure she’s not doing this because either of us has a haughty, I’m so awesome personality. If she likes to be around us, it’s largely because she sees us as safe and as a source of good things, food being one of them. And the car thing has nothing to do with us – car rides are fun and often lead to Petco or the dog park. My dog does seem to see praise as rewarding, but who knows if that’s because she’s eager to please, because she finds being around happy people pleasant, or because she associates praise with treats and scratches. I don’t know, or really care, if she’s responding out of a sense of loyalty to me or if she’s hoping there’s chicken in it for her. I think part of the reason that the cult of personality thing is so attractive is that people often get dogs to feel loved, and they want to know that their dog actually likes them. There’s a lot of ego and emotional security wrapped up in that. But even in human relationships, we like people who are nice to us, and who we have fun with. If you’re nice to the dog and give them the chance to have fun with you, odds are pretty good that they’ll like you. Real rock stars have to back up all that ego and cult of personality with actual talent (or at least looks, in the case of some pop stars). If you want to be a rock star to your dog, you have to back it up with something they want, and food is great for that.

  2. Nazvi N. says:

    Dogs are man’s best friend. No matter what you are, blind or deaf, dogs will surely help you to reduce your sufferings. My aunt’s dog helps her a lot in many cases.

  3. Sandra says:

    @Kathy V. You do not have to have Sunny certified. Licensed yes, but the only cert you need is to have a diagnosis of your disability, from a physician.

  4. Trine Marie L. says:

    Momento, what is all this stuff??!!

  5. Vendita PC says:

    I agree completely with this article…

  6. Vendita says:

    Great Post. Really it will help lot of people. Thanks for the post.

  7. Kyria says:

    You can learn more about Kyria, paws4people, paws4vets and how you might help at our new site http://helpkyria.com

  8. Kathy V. says:

    I really enjoyed reading about this organization, as I do others like Dogs for the Deaf, for example. I have been on disability for a while now because of fibromyalgia and CFIDS, but in the last three years developed severe balance problems that caused me to fall at least 10 times, once knocking me unconscious for more than a day. If it weren’t for my golden retriever, adopted from rescue about four years ago and untrained as an assistance dog, many, many times I would not have been able to get to my house after checking my mailbox, reach the house from my backyard and from the end of my driveway. Were it not for my dog, I wouldn’t be able to safely (usually no more than once every one or two weeks) drive my car without hitting something because of my inability to navigate properly. With her sitting in the back seat, she puts her head on a console in between the two front seats and “alerts me” when I start to accidentally veer off course. She has also proven to be an ideal hearing dog, which I learned only after I suddenly lost the hearing in one ear in 2009 for no explicable reason any physician and specialist can find. Because my girl, Sunny, is not a certified assistance dog, I can’t take her into the grocery store or the drugstore with me, and she would have been a lot more helpful to me in those places than a walker I was forced to use after I fell off a ladder no more than 2.5-3 feet and sustained a femoral neck fracture, which required emergency surgery. Truly, I don’t know what I’d do without my girl, as she is the only support and friend I have in the world. I have two sisters who are jealous that I receive disability and they don’t (they earn 20,000 times as much as I receive), and both have refused to help me since I became very ill and was hospitalized after attempting to work and keep a job so that I could get off disability for a second time in 2006.

  9. Kyria Henry says:

    @Karen E. P. We do not, at this time, specialize in training Hearing Dogs. However, we do not charge any of our clients for our Assistance Dogs. Rather, we have clients participate in Public Awareness Campaigns to help us educate their community about the unique type of dog they are receiving and what roles this dog will serve for them. This public awareness often generates a fundraising campaign as people ask how they can help. This Public Awareness Campaign serves as “sweat equity” in working towards receiving an Assistance Dog, rather than writing a check.
    Thank you!

  10. Alvin D. says:

    Hello there my friends,
    I have a four legged friend named Milo. I have seizures and he is a big help. I am temporarily in another town where all they know about service dogs are {that they are} for the blind, which is ok but there they don’t know what a medical dog can do for me. How would I get an ADA card out in South Dakota? Please help. From Alvin and Milo

  11. Denise F. says:

    Hi, my name is Denise and I live in Orlando, Florida. I have PTSD and a TBI due to an automobile accident. I have 2 golden retreivers and a black lab who are my life savers but I have always wanted to train them to be therapy dogs and now I am the one needing the therapy dogs. Can you help me to better train and specialize my dogs for my specific needs? I live on SSD and am on extremely low income. Please help me if you can and thank you so very much for your great help for all of us with disabilities. You are an incredible blessing and inspiration.

  12. Miami says:

    You can find out a lot more about Kyria Henry, her organizations and the people she serves at http://helpkyria.com

  13. Disability.Blog Team says:

    @Maureen S. & @Dan K. – The paws4people foundation currently operates in Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina and Georgia. They maintain limited operations and K-9 placement services in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, eastern Tennesee and South Carolina. Applicants from other geographic locations may request special consideration. However, the special consideration will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Visit this link for the paws4people Application Package: http://www.paws4people.org/p4p_documents/

  14. MICHAEL S. says:

    @Karen E. P. – I have a good dog who is full of energy, yet well-manored and completely house broken. His name is Buddy. He is a 4 yr. old male black lab. He has been fixed and had his shots. I live with my wife who is on disabilty and she has a little black mixed breed – it is her most precious aid in everyday life. I know how important this small animal is to her. That’s why I feel with my everyday responsibilities, Buddy does not get enough attention or exercize for a dog of his size. I tell my friends that just because Buddy walks slow doesn’t mean he’s stupid, he’s really very smart and a credit to his breed. He’s a little overweight from too many treats and not enough play. I feel he would be a great asset to someone in need of a friend and like his class of breed, a good working dog. There is something about working dogs or many different working animals, like they are happiest when there is work to be done. I don’t know if he will be what this women Karen E. P. is looking for, but he will need training in the field of her needs. Best Regards, MIKE.

  15. Dan K. says:

    Hello, I am totally disabled, on SSA. I feel a need for a service dog and live in Cartersville, Georgia. Is it possible I may get a service dog? I’m on a low income.

  16. Dan K. says:

    Hello, I am totally disabled, on SSA. I feel a need for a service dog and live in Cartersville, Georgia. Is it possible I may get a service dog? I’m on a low income.

  17. Dan K. says:

    Hello, I am totally disabled, on SSA. I feel a need for a service dog and live in Cartersville, Georgia. Is it possible I may get a service dog? I’m on a low income.

  18. Dan K. says:

    Hello, I am totally disabled, on SSA. I feel a need for a service dog and live in Cartersville, Georgia. Is it possible I may get a service dog? I’m on a low income.

  19. Dan K. says:

    Hello, I am totally disabled, on SSA. I feel a need for a service dog and live in Cartersville, Georgia. Is it possible I may get a service dog? I’m on a low income.

  20. Gwen says:

    This is a great article. Thanks.

  21. Diana R. says:

    Thanks for the great job you’re doing in this field. There should be more like you. I too used to train dogs, but for home and buisnesses. I don’t train anymore because I’ve had five strokes and I’m disabled myself now. But occassionally a neighor needs help with their dogs and I do what I can. Like this one guy would take his dogs for a walk each day and the dogs would run so ahead of him, he always had trouble getting them to come back to him. I told him he has to make himself seem more interesting than what they were going towards, and he asked how. I told him to raise the pitch of his voice as high as he could muster, call their names and then say “puppy, puppy, puppy” and when both his dogs came running back to him as fast as their legs could carry them, he stood there mouth gaped open and said, “I can’t believe that worked!” I proceeded to explain the importance of a leash for his dogs’ safety, if nothing else. Keep up the great work, so so proud of you!

  22. Rev. Alfredo L.-C. says:

    Yes, I forgot to ask you for a business card, if one is availiable.
    Again, God bless you always.
    Rev. Alfredo.

  23. Rev. Alfredo L.-C. says:

    Dear Kyria, God bless you child, for doing such good work at such an early age and demonstrating to all that kids can make a difference in individuals’ lives. I am so grateful, and may even soon need such a dog, as my disabilities have become quite debilitating, but not yet. I am sure there are many other more needy candidates at present. May God continue to bless you in the name of Jesus, and give you a long happy life with your family. You are an inspiration to us all, even 12 years after founding this marvelous group to help the disabled. God bless you.
    Your fan,
    Rev. Alfredo L.-C., PA, USA.
    Drop me a line sometime. Thanks, bye.

  24. Maureen S. says:

    We are training our golden retriever puppy to be our daughters psychiatric service dog. She has intellectual disabilities, and then 2 years ago she started having auditory hallucinations. Medicine isnt helping her schizophrenia half as much as this dog is! She calms her panic attacks and brings her back to reality when she hears voices. We are working with a trainer for general obedience, but could use any assistance with specialized training. We are located in Los Angeles County.
    Can you help us in anyway?

  25. Karen E. P. says:

    Where is the Paw4People located in Pennsylvania and do you train dogs for deaf people who are in their 60′s? I also have cerebral palsy and walk with a walker and have had cochlear implants but am completely deaf without them. I had a regular shitz zu dog but she passed at the age of 16 and I am wanting to get a dog with training to help me. Do you charge anything for placing a dog? Is there any help for low income people in acquiring a dog?
    Thank you.