Service Dogs Help Children with Disabilities

service dogs

Some of us may still think of service dogs primarily as Seeing Eye dogs for the blind, but over the past fifteen years, service dogs have expanded their work into many different fields. A New York Times Magazine article, “Wonder Dog”, highlights a field where service dogs are really making a big impact: children with disabilities.

The article highlights the work of Karen Shirk and her Xenia, Ohio organization called 4 Paws for Ability. The organization began in 1998 because Shirk, who has a disability herself, was unimpressed with the difficulty people with disabilities, particularly children, had in obtaining a service dog from an agency.

Her goal became to pair service dogs with children who have a disability. These disabilities include everything from Down’s syndrome, to seizure disorders, to Autism, to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. 4 Paws for Ability, in fact, trained the first known service dog for a child with autism.

Service dogs are able to help children with a wide variety of daily tasks, and each dog is trained specifically to the needs of their future child. Some tasks they may learn include:

  • Turning lights on and off
  • Opening Doors
  • Providing calming “deep pressure” to children with sensory disorders by laying across the child’s lap
  • Alerting, and sometimes even detecting ahead of time, the occurrence of a seizure
  • Warding off unwanted behaviors such as tantrums and hair pulling by redirecting the child.

Shirk notes, though, that sometimes the most moving aspect of the service dog relationship is the unconditional love and sense of companionship that the dog gives to the child. She also notes that children with disabilities often face social anxiety from others who are uncomfortable with their disability. A service dog often makes social situations easier for the child, taking the focus away from his or her disability.

Since its founding in 1998, 4 Paws for Ability has successfully placed over 600 dogs with children across the US and abroad. Four full-time trainers and countless volunteers work with approximately 200 dogs at any given time. The organization has a 90% success rate with placement.

Successful placement may rely on several aspects of the 4 Paws model:

  • A family who is applying for a dog sends 4 Paws extensive video coverage of their child throughout the day. This video footage is used to train a dog to the child’s particular needs.
  • The organization primarily trains breeds who are noted for their service work, specifically golden retrievers and labs.
  • A family spends ten days in Xenia meeting their dog and learning how to work with the dog.

You can learn more about 4 Paws for Ability by visiting their website.

The training of dogs for the service of disabled children is just another example of how amazing our faithful companions truly are. Learn more about how amazing your dog is by visiting our Knowledge Center or stay up to date with the latest pet news on our Smarty Pets Blog.

Making the End of Life Better: Hospice for Your Pet

English Springer Spaniel

The hardest days of pet ownership can be struggling with a pet’s terminal illness – trying to keep them comfortable while making decisions about medical treatment and euthanasia.

A movement is growing across the country to help pet owners through those darkest days.

A recent New York Times article highlighted the growing movement of palliative care organizations forming across the nation. More and more vets and businesses are helping to create a better end of life experience for pets by providing pet hospice care and in-home euthanasia.

How Pet Hospice Works

Hospice for pets works similarly to hospice for people – the dog or cat no longer receives aggressive medical treatment and is instead issued pain relievers or anti-anxiety medications to help keep them comfortable in their last days. The vet visits the house, relieving the stress of having to take a dying pet into the office.

Euthanasia happens in the home too, when and where the pet owner chooses.

Growth of the Movement

The article highlighted Lap of Love, an organization that began providing palliative care to dogs in Florida in 2010. In just four short years, Lap of Love has extended its reach across the country, now working with 68 vets across the country in 18 states.

The International Association for Animal Hospices and Palliative Care was founded in 2009 and already has two hundred mostly-veterinary members.

While these numbers may seem relatively low compared to the number of vets countrywide, advocates of end of life care for pets note that the positive feedback of owners and quick growth of the movement highlight the desire and need for such services.


Involved vets and owners note several benefits of hospice and in-home euthanasia:

  • Palliative care provides an alternative to aggressive and costly medical treatment. Many pet owners feel like they have had a choice between treating a condition and putting their pet down. Hospice care provides an alternative.
  • Palliative care allows more time for owners and pets to be together before an end of life decision has to be made. Pet owners don’t feel like being rushed into euthanizing their pet. Instead, they work with their vet to make their pet’s last weeks or days comfortable, and have time to decide when to euthanize.
  • Vet visits and euthanasia occur in the home. Pet owners in the article talked about the pain of having to take a dying friend into unfamiliar or uncomfortable space, such as the vet’s office or an animal shelter, to put their pet down. In-home euthanasia allows for the pet to be at home in familiar surroundings at the end of their life.

While these are no doubt great benefits for any pet and owner, such care does come at a price. In-home euthanasia costs, on average, 25% more than taking a pet to the vet’s office.

Though the article compares animal hospice and its price tag to the growing trend of luxury pet care, including pet spas and pet therapists, owners argue that hospice is more about giving their pet an end-of-life experience that is more in line with the life of their pet. Pets are a growing part of American families and the compassion they receive during their lives ought to be extended to their last days advocates say.

Whatever your decisions are about your pet’s last days, Pet Super Store is here to help support you through the lifetime of your pet, offering a wide selection of products to accommodate dogs from their puppy days to their golden years. Also check out our Smarty Pets Knowledge Center to glean information for making your pet’s life as happy and health as possible.

Interview With Animals Who Educate Founder Jenna Gates

dog-on-booksLast week we introduced you to a new nonprofit called Animals Who Educate, founded by Jenna Gates. This week, Jenna is here with us to tell us more about how her innovative organization will work with schools and communities, and talk about the potential benefits of encouraging animal stewardship in children.

We’re also pleased to announce that for the month of December, 10% of all purchases made at Pet Super Store will be donated to Animals Who Educate!

Read Jenna’s interview below to learn about other ways you can support AWE, and stay with us in the coming months as we follow their journey here on our blog.

Question: Animals Who Educate is a wonderful idea that has the potential to create positive change for both animals and people. What inspired you to create this organization?

I started a Shiba Inu meetup group in NYC in 2006, so my dog Snickers would have plenty of pals for play dates. About a year later, six of us from the meetup started a rescue organization focused on Shibas and Shiba mixes. I had not been involved in rescue at all prior to founding NYC Shiba Rescue, so it was an incredibly educational experience for me with regard to the pet overpopulation problem, animal abuse, and the startling lack of knowledge and empathy many people have for companion animals.

While I was recruiting volunteers and building NYCSR, Snickers also introduced me to the world of therapy animals. I don’t remember who first mentioned to me that he could be a therapy dog, but the idea was planted in my mind as I was building the rescue. This was all happening during the same time that the New York City Council and NYC Board of Education were discussing a resolution that would require NYC’s schools to comply with a 1947 state law requiring humane education in public schools. I remember a fellow NYCSR board member telling me that dogs would need to be registered therapy dogs to enter the schools and participate in humane education programs. That was the catalyst for Snick and me to become registered with Delta Society (now Pet Partners).

Once we were registered, I couldn’t wait to get started, so Snick and I started visiting a private elementary school for developmentally disabled children as part of the ASPCA’s humane education program. The time that we spent there showed me what an impact spending time with an animal can have on young children who haven’t been exposed to pets in their daily lives. It can completely change their perception of animals. Many of the kids we visited with saw Snickers at first as scary or as an object, but after spending time with him and getting to know him, they saw him as a living, feeling being with a personality and emotions. Witnessing that planted the seed for Animals Who Educate.

Question: Teaching children to treat animals with respect has some obvious positive outcomes, but what are some of the benefits that might not be so obvious at first?

That’s a hard question to answer because some of the things that seem obvious to me now, weren’t obvious to me five years ago. Teaching children to treat animals with respect will, first and foremost, protect children. Kids who don’t grow up around animals often have no idea how to approach them and will behave erratically. Some kids will run up to a strange dog to pet it without permission or grab a cat by the tail, both of which can be hazardous. I’ve had kids grab onto Snick like he’s a stuffed animal! Some will run from a dog, which may trigger a chase response.

Beyond the immediate benefit of protecting children, it will also improve the lives of future companion animals. When children are taught to respect animals, they begin to think of them as living, feeling beings, which leads to empathy. As adults, they will be less likely to abuse or neglect companion animals. There are numerous psychological benefits for children as well. For example, having animals in the classroom changes the group dynamic and can engage children who don’t normally participate in class activities. There is even the possibility of identifying children with emotional problems that might otherwise go unnoticed, by observing their reaction to and behavior with animals in the classroom.

Question: You’re still in the planning and funding stages, but what can you tell us at this point about how your mission will take shape in schools and communities?

My intention is that Animals Who Educate will become a guiding force, enabling local volunteers to work side by side with educators in long term, meaningful programs. A.W.E. will provide guidelines and registration for volunteers and their animals plus lesson plans and scheduling suggestions for teachers in all grade levels.

We plan to promote our programs directly to public and private schools by sending information packages to educators, administrators, and school boards. We will promote the programs to potential volunteers online and by attending pet expos, fairs, and conferences across the country. We will then match up interested schools and volunteers and help them put together customized programs using our standard materials as a foundation. There are a lot of materials to be developed, volunteers to engage, funds to be raised before we can fully put this in motion, but that’s the general idea!

Question: There are plenty of people on both sides of the argument when it comes to nature vs. nurture in dogs. Do you think it’s possible that helping children gain empathy for dogs at a young age could eventually curb the aggression that’s attributed to some breeds?

I certainly think it’s possible! There’s no doubt in my mind that both nature AND nurture feed the development of aggressive dogs. To complicate the equation, nurture affects nature… for example, when people selectively breed for aggression. It could take generations to be quantifiable, but I absolutely believe that encouraging empathy in our children and teens will eventually stem the tide of animal abuse, abandonment, and aggression.

Question: What can people reading this interview do to help move Animals Who Educate’s mission forward?

Right now, I am focused on getting organized, getting 501(c)(3) status, and putting volunteers to work formulating lesson plans. Donations of any amount are greatly appreciated and anyone who is interested in volunteering – especially to help develop educational materials -  should contact me through

New Nonprofit Promotes Pet Stewardship

girl and dogAs our regular readers know, educating pet parents is not only one of our primary goals with our blog, but a core part of our company mission. Pets are our companions, our helpers, and members of our families. As their human guardians we owe it to them to provide the best care possible.

That’s why we were intrigued recently when we learned of an up-and-coming nonprofit that shares our goals, and has developed a unique approach to pet education. They don’t just want to educate today’s pet parents; they want to educate tomorrow’s as well.

The cause is called Animals Who Educate, and their mission is to help children learn empathy for animals from a young age through programs that teach stewardship and respect for creatures. As you can see from their website AWE is still in the early stages of development, but we’re going to do everything we can to help this worthwhile goal become a reality.

As Ghandi said, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” Those of us who share our lives with pets know how true that statement is. That’s what makes AWE such a compelling concept for us here at Pet Super Store. It is an organization with a mission to educate in ways that could not only make life better for pets, but for humans as well.

Kids who grow up around animals make for adults who can more easily empathize with others. Additionally, exposure to pets opens children up to new perspectives on the world, and protects them from taking undue risks around unfamiliar dogs and cats. The potential benefits of AWE’s programs are practically too numerous to count.

Next week we’ll introduce you to AWE’s founder Jenna Gates and learn more about her organization, its goals, and its future. We’ll let you know how you can support AWE, and we’ll continue to follow them as they make this fantastic idea a reality.

We couldn’t be more thrilled to be able to support such a worthy cause with such potential for positive change. Thank you, Jenna, for letting us be a part of AWE’s journey.

November is Adopt-A-Senior Pet Month

Devotion of the dog

If you’re considering adopting a dog or cat, you may want to consider a senior pet. November is ASPCA’s Adopt-a-Senior Pet Month, and the month highlights the benefits of adopting an older friend.

A dog is usually considered to be a senior when it reaches over seven years in age. Cats are not usually considered senior until 12 years of age. But advanced age doesn’t mean that these pets are at the end of their life – senior pets can be enjoyable companions with many advantages for a pet owner. Here are three benefits of an older dog, though they can apply to cats just as well:

1) Older pets are already themselves. When you adopt a puppy, you can never be quite sure as to what their temperament will be as an adult, or their size.  An older pet offers the advantage of already being fully grown and having an established personality.

Many older dogs that end up in shelters come from loving homes they had to leave because of a change in the family’s circumstances such as a move, divorce, or death. They are usually well behaved and longing for another comfortable home.

2) Older pets are not puppies. Sure, puppies are cute, but puppies and younger dogs have a lot of energy. You’ll have to work on potty training, crate training and obedience – all while finding constructive ways to help them shed their abundant energy. Senior pets on the other hand are mellow.  They may enjoy a long walk every day but don’t try breaking down the door to get there. They’re great pets for families who need a more relaxed energy.

3) Older pets can still be taught new tricks. Many people reject the idea of an older pet because they fear the dog has already developed bad habits that can’t be fixed. If your older pet does have some bad behaviors, they can still be taught new ones. Sometimes, a training collar can be helpful for this. Or they may have great manners and you can spend your time teaching them fun tricks instead of having to teach them basic commands.

Pet rescues and your local animal shelter can usually give you a good idea of the temperament of an older dog before you choose to adopt. This month some shelters are offering reduced or waived adoption fees on senior pets.

The Pet Super Store aims to make any dog, from a puppy to a senior feel right at home including comfy dog beds, treats, and special dog anti-bark collars.

And check out our Knowledge Center for more information on your pet concerns and questions.