Recently I got to visit with Carolyn Clark Beedle, Executive Director of Assistance Dogs of the West (ADW), on Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com. Carolyn stopped by to talk about the work she and her staff and volunteers are accomplishing at ADW in Santa Fe, NM.

ADW has been around since 1995 and they provide trained service dogs to people with disabilities in order to increase self-reliance and independence. They are relatively a small to medium size assistance dog agency that places about 20 dogs a year to clients in New Mexico and other parts of the country.

One of the things I enjoyed most during our visit was learning about ADW’s innovative educational and vocational programs. These programs engage elementary, middle and high school students at young as 8, at-risk teenagers, juvenile detainees, and youth and adult student trainers with developmental and physical disabilities.

ADW is unique in working with these populations to become student trainers. Since 1996, ADW trainers have worked with students at Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and other Northern New Mexico schools and agencies to deliver the ADW School Assistance Dog Program curricula. These innovative programs are teaching participating youth and adults the importance of patience and leadership, how to give and receive love, the necessity for emotional self-control, and the value of encouragement. As students build a relationship with their assistance dog, students also gain an understanding of the challenges facing people with disabilities. They also learn about generosity and sacrifice when they present the assistance dog they have trained to the client.

The genius of these programs is that the student participants pay a program fee to enroll in these classes. However, ADW does offer some scholarships and financial assistance for those who want to participate but can not pay the fees. ADW generates critical income and the student participants gain valuable social and personal skills. It is a win/win situation for everyone involved.

I was also encouraged by ADW’s Self Training Program where clients can bring in their own dogs for evaluation and training. A client’s potential service dog (of any breed) is assessed for temperament and “interest” in doing the work. If the dog and client are accepted into the program, for a fee, they can work with ADW trainers for a minimum of 40 weeks. Graduates of the ADW Self Training leave the program with Public Access Certification and an identified set of skills to support each individual client.

Hats off to Carolyn and her team of staff and volunteers for the innovative work they are doing to train and place assistance dogs with individuals with various types of disabilities!