Helping Paws is a Minnesota non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with 30 years of experience raising, training, and matching service dogs to veterans/first responders with PTSD or individuals with a physical disability such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, ALS, a spinal cord injury, or other conditions affecting mobility. The human/animal bond is the foundation of Helping Paws. We celebrate the mutually beneficial and dynamic relationships between people and animals, honoring the dignity and well-being of all.
Helping Paws started in 1985 as a pilot project of the University of Minnesota's Center for the Study of Human-Animal Relationships and Environments (CENSHARE Program). The agency became a stand-alone nonprofit in 1988 and adopted the name Helping Paws in 2001. Program expansion resulted in a move to larger facility in Hopkins, MN in 2006, allowing the agency to accommodate many more students for team training within a large, indoor, fully accessible training facility. Due to the urgent needs of these military veterans, Helping Paws launched their Veterans program in 2013. Helping Paws is accredited by Assistance Dogs International.
Service dogs provide friendship, comfort, and companionship in addition to assisting their partners with physical tasks. They can wake or reorient the veteran when they are having flashbacks or nightmares. They can act as a barrier in crowds, allowing the veteran the choice to maintain personal space or boundaries. Service dogs can even 'speak' on command to either draw attention to their owner, or act as a deterrent if the owner is feeling threatened. The benefits our veteran graduates see are a reduction in anxiety, improved relationships, willingness to go out in public, improved quality and duration of sleep, the service dog turning on lights and picking up dropped items. Many service dogs have an incredible capacity to be intuitive and to anticipate their human partner's needs. They are wonderful companions and love unconditionally. The two become a lifelong working team.
The training and matching of a service dog is a long labor of love, taking about 2 ½ years to complete. It requires thousands of specialized volunteer hours and an investment of about $30,000, which covers the costs of operating the training facility, program development, and volunteer training and support. Each working team also receives lifelong support as well as the direct costs of lifelong veterinarian bills, training equipment, and other expenses associated with the dogs.
Since 1985, Helping Paws has matched over 240 people with a service dog, giving people with physical disabilities and veterans/first responders with PTSD the gifts of dignity, independence, freedom and peace of mind. The agency will match ten to fifteen new service dog teams in 2018 as well as provide ongoing support for currently matched graduate teams.