Paws with Purpose is a Louisville-based non-profit organization that provides assistance dogs as partners to children and adults with physical disabilities or other needs. Besides providing comfort and companionship, these dogs perform many skilled tasks, which help their partners lead more independent lives. Beth Fuller, the 2012 Kentucky Elementary Teacher of the Year at Atkinson Elementary School and a Paws with Purpose board member, shares her perspective on this great organization and its need for community support.
LORI KOMMOR: These dogs obviously play an important role in people’s lives and are much more than just pets. Tell us what is required when training them for this important role.
BETH FULLER: Each dog requires about two to three years of intense training. Even during the training process, we make sure they are associated and familiar with humans so to make sure they are well socialized. We work with the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women, where women there work to train the dogs under the supervision of an experienced trainer. This brings meaning to the lives of these women, and, of course, provides an enormous benefit to the dogs’ partners and us. Training requires a lot of time, focus and energy, and actually costs about $20,000 per dog.
KOMMOR: Paws with Purpose actually helps many people, in addition to the dogs’ partners, women in prison and even area school students. Who else can benefit?
FULLER: Even when we have a dog that is unable to become a service dog, due to a health issue of its own such as allergies, we take them to schools where children read to them through the Ruff Ruff Reader Program. At first – it may sound strange – but children with learning or reading disabilities benefit from this because when reading to dogs, they are less self-conscious and motivated by the fun of learning with the help of a dog, and eventually build confidence in reading skills – which is critical throughout their entire education. Other dogs unable to act as service dogs often become therapy dogs, helping people in hospitals, nursing homes and even homeless shelters. We find ways for these dogs to benefit people in many different paths of life.
KOMMOR: Are there any members of the community who have expressed interest and embraced Paws with Purpose?
FULLER: University of Louisville President James Ramsey and his wife Jane have become big fans. Dr. Ramsey was intrigued by the Ruff Ruff Reader Program and the educational aspect of how dogs can play a role in the learning process. As the university president, he is interested in new and innovative ways to teach and how programs like this one might inform how the next generations of college students are taught. He even visited Atkinson Elementary to meet with the students and dogs to witness the reading program in action. We so appreciate the commitment (from him) and his wife Jane, who both served as honorary chairs of our annual Puttin’ on the Dog fundraiser in October. Like so many other people, their love of dogs was key to their involvement and participation.
KOMMOR: Like Dr. Ramsey, there are so many people out there who love dogs and may want to learn more or get involved. How can they learn more about Paws with Purpose?
FULLER: Our website, www.pawswithpurpose.org, provides a lot of information about the organization and offers tips on how to get involved. People can work with our Training Team to become puppy trainers, allowing the dog to temporarily live with a family to become socialized and connected to humans. We also have a number of volunteer roles to fill and anyone interested can contact us through the website.