Social work assistant professor, students help assistance dogs program

February 1, 2013 | Features, UToday, — Languages, Literature and Social Sciences
By Casey Cheap

Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence (ADAI), a regional nonprofit, recently merged with the Ability Center of Greater Toledo and strengthened ties with The University of Toledo.

Kennedy received a hug from Zane Gerlach, son of Jen Gerlach, Dr. Janet Hoy’s partner.

Kennedy received a hug from Zane Gerlach, son of Jen Gerlach, Dr. Janet Hoy’s partner.

According to Dr. Janet Hoy, assistant professor of social work, two social work students have completed field practicums with ADAI in the last two years, and she just finished fostering Kennedy, a golden retriever that works for Tiffin City Schools as a therapy dog.

“Kennedy grew up in Toledo Correctional Institute’s ‘puppy prison’ program [where inmates train the canines] and then went on to an adult foster home,” Hoy said. “He initially started with another foster, but he was in my care for about five months. Our students were very helpful in socializing and interacting with Kennedy and practicing his various commands.”

She first got involved with ADAI about three years ago, but said she has been researching the benefits of human-animal bonds much longer.

“We sometimes don’t explicitly consider and tap into the various benefits of the human-animal bond,” Hoy said. “It is something that has been underutilized in social work practice.”

To help promote such research, Hoy convened and co-facilitated a new research interest group on animal and social work practice at a national research conference in San Diego earlier this month.

ADAI serves Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, training canines to work as service or therapy dogs, helping people with disabilities. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to help people with mobility impairments. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, interact with individuals or groups in ways that are therapeutically beneficial, but don’t perform individual tasks to compensate for specific disability-related needs, according to Hoy.

Therapy dogs must pass a temperament test and complete basic and advanced obedience training. In addition to the requirements met by therapy dogs, service dogs are trained to do anything from opening and closing doors and pulling laundry baskets to helping people get dressed. The tasks service dogs learn depend upon the needs of the individual each is matched with.

“All of the methods used by ADAI trainers entail positive reinforcement,” Hoy said. “There are no punishments, and if a dog doesn’t make it as a service or therapy dog, he or she is adopted out of the program. ADAI is committed to the well-being of the trainee dogs, irrespective of whether they successfully complete the training program.”

Not every dog has the temperament to become a service dog. Kennedy is considered to have a good temperament, but his drive to consistently perform complex tasks was not especially high. So Kennedy was designated as a therapy dog.

The most common types of dogs trained by ADAI are golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers. ADAI receives dogs through a variety of routes, including breeder donations and shelter rescues.

There is a waiting list of individuals seeking service and therapy dogs, and ADAI is always in need of good foster homes for service and therapy dog trainees. Fosters are expected to do a daily minimum of one half hour of daily training practice, attend monthly sessions, maintain a daily log, and complete a series of community outings and socialization activities with their trainees.

“Some people are able to live independently in large part due to the assistance of their service dogs,” Hoy said.

For more details about ADAI or inquiries of how to get involved, click here.

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