Increasing Independence, One Dog at a Time

By Cara Conway, guest contributor from PAWS

Before MATER, her papillon PAWS Hearing Dog, Molly was never able to fully relax. She was always worried that she was missing a critical sound in her environment that would alert her to danger. One time, she barely made it to the basement in time to take cover when there was a tornado nearby. But now, with MATER by her side, she is finally able to let go of the anxiety she has carried for so many years.

More than 40 years ago, Paws With A Cause set out on a mission: to increase the independence of people with disabilities one dog at a time.

PAWS custom trains Hearing Dogs, Service Dogs, Seizure Response Dogs, and Service Dogs for children with autism. Some of the tasks these dogs are trained to do include alerting to sounds, opening doors, turning on lights, picking up dropped objects, and getting outside human assistance during a seizure or after a fall.

Although PAWS estimates that it costs $35,000 to breed, raise, train, and place a single Assistance Dog, these dogs are placed at no cost to the client thanks to generous donors.

You may be thinking that is a steep cost to donors, but to their clients, these life-changing dogs are worth every penny.

“Prior to BRYCE, I felt like my life was at a standstill where epilepsy was in the driver’s seat and instead of living my life, I was existing.” – PAWS Seizure Response Client, Cimberly

BRYCE allows Cimberly to live her life again. She no longer has to worry about what will happen if she has a seizure because he is there to help. BRCYE has given Cimberly her “I can” back. Watch Cimberly tell her story.

Training PAWS dogs

As you might expect, training Assistance Dogs like MATER or BRYCE is a long process. It takes between two and three years of training before a dog is ready to become an Assistance Dog! The training starts just weeks after the pups are born in a volunteer’s home; the dogs begin by working on small tasks such as keeping all four paws on the floor before getting picked up.

At eight weeks old, they move to a volunteer foster puppy raiser who houses them for 12-16 months and teaches them basic obedience and socialization. The dog then returns to PAWS for its advanced training.

PAWS trainers use positive reinforcement to train the dogs. This could be verbal or physical praise, toys, or, of course…treats! The PAWS Trainers evaluate the dog’s health and temperament, and take note on what the dog enjoys doing.

For example, if a dog really likes to play tug-o-war or fetch, they may be best suited to work as a Service Dog. If a dog is very comfortable in loud situations and being around children, they may be a good fit to work as a Service Dog for a child with autism. These are a few of the elements that help dictate the dog’s career path.

A dog’s career path

Dogs from PAWS can be placed as an Assistance Dog with a person with a disability, as a Facility Dog, or in a number of different working careers. Facility Dogs are trained to assist many people and are commonly found in classrooms or hospitals. Watch MAPLE’s story to learn about a dog that was the one thing the school never knew they needed!

PAWS is always looking for the dog’s highest purposeful placement, sometimes not as an Assistance Dog or as a Facility Dog, but as a dog who goes into detection work or as a family pet!

PAWS Dogs allow their clients to live a life full of confidence, companionship, and dignity. On such lucky client, Cal, received a Service Dog trained for children with autism. The dog, ARTY, had an immediate positive impact on him. Cal felt so safe with ARTY that within just 30 minutes of meeting him he took off his security sweater, a piece of clothing he wore 24/7 no matter the temperature.

Not only did ARTY have an impact on Cal, but he made a huge impression on the entire family. Cal’s parents were able to sleep through the night for the first time in nine years and his dad and siblings were able to move back into their family home because Cal was no longer having unsafe outbursts. Cal was also able to be mainstreamed back into the “typical” classroom and come off of more than half of his medications! Watch Cal’s story.

We invite you to play a part in giving the gift of independence to a person with a disability by learning more about PAWS at or connecting with them on social media!

Watch the podcast interview with Cara Conway.

Categories: World of Accessibility