Helping Paws founded to help veterans

August 31, 2017

Owner-Trainer Lori Shaw with Therapy Dog Ali.

Owner-Trainer Lori Shaw with Therapy Dog Ali.

By Pat Maurer

It is no wonder Lori Shaw founded “Helping Paws.” She loves animals, so she has made working with them her life’s work. “I grew up loving to work with animals of all kinds,” she said. “We always had dogs around growing up and even after I got married. As a kid I participated in 4-H and later I began learning about training.”

She said she has done dog training for twelve years, teaching beginning obedience, intermediate obedience and even AKC –Canine Good Citizen and a preparatory class for therapy dogs.

For the past ten years she has served as an evaluator of AKC (American Kennel Club) and Therapy Dog International.

At home she has four labs that are all therapy dogs except for one who is now retired from therapy dog work.

Therapy dogs are trained to help people. “We visit nursing homes, hospitals and mostly work with elementary children on the reading skills in Clare County schools.

And for the past eight years, she said, “We have raised puppies for ‘Leader Dogs for the Blind’ of Rochester, MI.”

About five years ago, she said they began training service dogs with veterans who have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). “It is a two year program,” she said.

Last year to be able they took the program one step further with “Helping Paws.” She said, “We formed Helping Paws LLC in 2016 to help those in need at no cost to the veterans who have served our country.” The program is free to veterans who have a rating of 50 percent PTSD and or physical disabilities.

Dennis and Bodie of White Cloud.

Dennis and Bodie of White Cloud.

Veterans who would benefit from the program, are recommended by a therapist or doctor’s letter saying a dog would be beneficial for them. They then go through an evaluation process.

The program is approximately two years under a contract and the dog can be leased from Helping Paws if needed.

Once the veteran’s home is evaluated for safety and a dog is matched with a veteran, they are trained together. The dog lives with the veteran and a ten step program is followed and completed. “At the end of the program, if all is going well, we sign over the ownership of the dog to the veteran,” Lori said.

She said they now have 17 active service handlers and dogs in training and 18 fully graduated service handlers and dogs all across the central part of Michigan.
All of the income from the obedience training classes goes to help with funding the veteran’s program. “The trainers and company do not take a dime,” she said, “it all goes to getting dogs, buying dog food, for leashes, collars, vests, patches, veterinary care and for training supplies.

Donations are important, and can be made to “Helping Paws LLC” in care of Lori Shaw, 3400 West North County Line Road, Farwell, 48622. The program is funded from personal money and from donations.

Just getting a dog is costly. Shelter costs are around $150 and veterinary health exams and updates (two each year) cost close to $300. Plus there are additional vet costs for shots etc. Supplies including supplements, food, kennels, dishes, toys and other miscellaneous costs raise the cost to Helping Paws to nearly $940 for every single dog in the program.

But the benefits to our veterans are priceless.

A fact sheet provided by Shaw says every day 22 veterans commit suicide; one in every eight soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan war suffers from PTSC and

Lorena and Diamond of Clare.

Lorena and Diamond of Clare.

62 percent of those showing signs of PTSD don’t seek help. One million veterans from the Vietnam War developed some level of PTSD after serving.

Symptoms of PTSC can include hyperarousal and abnormal startle responses – irritability and/or jumpiness; hypervigilance (constantly on guard); nightmares, insomnia and night sweats, recurrent traumatic memories or flashbacks, intrusive memories; overwhelming waves of emotions, survivor guilt, feelings of detachment, being numb and/or emotionally withdrawn; a fragmented sense of self and identity and panic attacks; shame or despair; a lack of interest in life or motivation for work or family, depression; fear and avoidance; memory concentration problems; sadness and hopelessness about the future; control issues and or anger; drugs and alcohol abuse and self-destructive behavior- thoughts of harming self or others.

Shaw said, “When paired with a service dog, 82 percent of veterans with PTSD had decreased symptoms and some were able to decrease or completely stop taking medications.”

Improvements in the condition with a service dog included increased patience, impulse control, and control of emotions; improved ability to display affection and a decrease in emotional numbness; improved sleep; decreased depression and an increase in a positive sense of purpose; a decrease in startle responses; a decrease in pain medications; and an increased sense of belonging and acceptance; an increase in assertiveness skills; improved parenting and family skills; lowered stress levels and an increased sense of calm.

Shaw’s information said, “A dog-human bond is part of emotional, mental and physical healing. This is an alternative therapy that can be used with other therapies. A dog can be a constant companion who gives unconditional love. Since they are non-judgmental, it reduces blood pressure and stress. They also heighten a veteran’s sense of safety.”

She continued, that having a service dog is a winning situation. It “increases the feel good hormone Oxytocin through playing, petting, and training” or just by gazing into the animals eyes.” Working with the dog helps veterans with PTSD with balance, helps them remember to take medication and helps them complete tasks.

Interactions with a service dog can be the first step in interacting with people. Service dogs will wake up a veteran from nightmares and being with their service dog teaches a veteran patience, trust and motivates them to exercise.

Lori said Helping Paws will begin registering for beginner obedience & therapy classes that well be held on Monday evenings. Intermediate obedience classes are on Tuesday evenings. Classes begin September 11th and 12th and again on October 23rd and 24th. Cost of obedience classes is $65 for six weeks.

She said, “If you are interested in obedience training, therapy dog work classes, or if you are a veteran and your doctor recommends a service dog, call her (Lori) at 989-387-9435.

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