Helping Dogs, Helping People
by: Rod Rice, December 10, 2007 5:12:00 am
Sheri Stoles was a trial lawyer in Houston 20 years ago and found it was less then fulfilling for her so she began to look for something to add to her life.
"In my search I read a magazine article about dogs that help people with disabilities and some of the groups got dogs from animal shelters, which is what appealed to me. So, I started this group on the side and about two years into it started doing it fulltime and left law behind me and I haven't looked back since."
The group she started is Texas Service and Hearing Dogs or TSHD. It has since moved to the Austin area and supplies dogs free of charge to people who need them. People like Shannon Martin of Houston. Her main pooch is a five year old yellow lab named Noble. Martin has only been confined to a wheelchair for about four years.
"And so it was a shocking experience for me to be in a wheelchair. And so before Noble I was depressed and sad and lonely. I was home alone all day and Noble came in and it just lifted my depression because I had something to do, someone to love and a goal."
Noble didn't just show up at the Martin home. A prospective client has to fill out an application to determine if TSHD can help them and if so, what kind of dog will fit their need. And then you wait for the dog to be trained. Martin says that can take a year or more. TSHD gives each client a mentor who helps get through the waiting and is there to help even after master and dog go home. Martin too got lots of training, a full week in Dripping Springs.
"The first thing they do is send you a booklet, you start to learn the lingo and then when you get there the dog comes along side you and you forget everything. But they very tenderly and patiently help you remember what to do. It's the most positive learning that I've ever been through."
After dog and human are home a trainer goes to the home once a week for 13 weeks before the partnership is made official. Texas Service & Hearing Dogs trains dogs for people with hearing loss and for those confined to a wheelchair. It is also looking into ways to help recent Iraq and Afghanistan vets and it is also training dogs to help people with balance problems. It's expensive, Sheri Soltes says it costs $18,000 to train a dog and dogs and all support services are free. She says the fulfillment that didn't materialize in the courtroom has at the dog training center because both dogs and humans benefit.
"We get 100% of our dogs from either animal shelters or animal rescue organizations and we're really happy to be helping the dogs as well as the people."
You'll find a link for Texas Service & Hearing Dogs at kuhf.org.