When most people hear “service animal,” they think of animals that aid the blind. That’s certainly what Wendy Lonstein, whose son Nolan is autistic, used to think. “When his doctor suggested finding a special needs dog for Nolan, my husband and I actually laughed at him,” Wendy says. But Clara, a golden retriever–lab mix, helps reduce Nolan’s outbursts and cope with everyday challenges. “He used to not even be able to wait in line at the store without melting down,” says Wendy. “Now he just says, ‘It’s okay with Clara.’ ” Clara came from the Delta Society, a nonprofit based in Bellevue, Washington, that funds the training and placement of service dogs. The group also offers other services, such as the Pet Partners program (see box), that all work to promote the healing powers of the human-animal bond. “The bond is truly an important part of our health care system,” says Delta Society co-founder Bill McCulloch, D.V.M., “and we’ve only tapped into maybe 5 percent of the potential of what we could do for people.” Learn more at deltasociety.org.
Paws in Action
The Delta Society’s Pet Partners program trains volunteers and their pets to visit people in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other facilities. There are currently more than 10,000 volunteers in 14 countries, and most domesticated animals are welcome—from dogs and cats to llamas and goats! See how your family can get involved at deltasociety.org.
Pets for the Elderly
When Jim Brown’s wife Patricia had a stroke in 2009, he never guessed that the best medicine would come in the form of a chubby, 8-year-old Chihuahua named Pudgy. But that’s exactly what happened after a trip to a local animal shelter. “As soon as they set Pudgy on Patricia’s lap, he laid his head down and didn’t move until the paperwork was done,” says Jim. From then on—much to Patricia’s delight—Pudgy was her constant companion. Sadly, Patricia passed away earlier this year, but Pudgy’s work isn’t done. “Now I’ve got somebody to talk to,” says Jim.
The Browns adopted Pudgy through a local shelter in Galveston, Texas, and the adoption fees were paid for by the Pets For the Elderly Foundation, a nonprofit that helps animal shelters pay the adoption fees for senior citizens. Today, 52 shelters in 29 states participate in the program, with over 100 shelters on the waiting list. Find out how you can help at petsfortheelderly.org.
International Hearing Dog, Inc.
Making the decision to adopt a service animal isn’t always easy. “Basically, having a service dog is like wearing a sandwich board: Here comes the ‘insert disability here’!” says Connie Martin, who is hearing impaired. But in 2004, she decided to adopt a service dog through International Hearing Dog, Inc. (IHDI), a nonprofit in Henderson, Colorado, that trains dogs from local animal shelters and places them as hearing dogs throughout the U.S. and Canada. When Connie met Fizz, a 20-pound poodle, the connection was instant. “Fizz didn’t leave my side the whole time I was at the training center,” she says.
It was through a rigorous training process at IHDI that Fizz learned to respond to Connie’s commands, a process that can take up to eight months and cost more than $7,000. But through donations, fundraising, and grants, IHDI has so far been able to provide the services at no cost to over 1,100 recipients. Learn more at ihdi.org.