Welcome to Alaska Assistance Dogs

RETIREMENT HAS ARRIVED! AFTER 13 YEARS AAD CLOSING MARCH 31st

Dodd and Carole Shay started Alaska Assistance Dogs (AAD) in 2001. After training dozens of service dogs for Alaskans and working with hundreds of kids and teens, it is time for retirement. The Board of Directors voted to close on March 31, 2014. The winding down will take place during the month of April and the end will come as our 13th year ends on April 30th. Head, Heart & Tails LLC will continue working with programs, but the younger generation of quality professional service dog trainers (especially Dr. Bonnie Bergin trained trainers) will continue in our place.

Over 20 years I have learned to understand the phenomenal capabilities of our canine friends. They are smart, intuitive, caring, rascally, in tune to humans’ moods, physiology and chemistry. We have seen them cue for seizures, low blood sugar, fibromyalgia and other body pain, fear and depression, panic attacks, nightmares and to brace and tend to their person using a wheelchair. It is endless…and all it takes is the human raising his or her awareness of what the dog is sensing or expressing naturally. Give those canines all the love you can. They are so much smarter than we give them credit for.

We have been fortunate to meet and work with exceptional people. Our volunteers have been more like family than staff. In our 13 years we all worked for love not wages; only a few were paid during a 6-month period. That’s dedication! We cannot say enough about the wonderful teachers and staff at Mt. View Elementary School, the delight working with Stone Soup Group, Catholic Social Services, MSSCA, CoDI, LINKS, and thanks to Anchorage and Palmer Animal Shelters for use of training space. Home Depot and Lowe’s, Carr’s and Fred Meyer, Walmart and all of the other wonderful businesses and venues that have worked with us during training sessions. To the Home Depot employees: We love you! All the wonderful long-time donors and grantors such as Alaska Mental Health Trust, Spenard Lions Club, Mat-Su Health Foundation plus all those Alaskans who blessed us with their individual and club donations. It really does take a community to raise a service dog…

We are looking into a way to continue providing current information on a service dog website for Alaskans to use. Stay tuned!

What is a Service Dog?

32572_134346059913806_100000152370785_386798_4008166_nGenerally when people hear the term “service dog” they often think of guide dogs for the blind or service dogs for individuals using a wheelchair. These were the first type of assistance dogs. There are many other types of dogs now to assist their owners: dogs for seizures, diabetes, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders, just to name a few. All service dogs perform tasks for their owners. The key requirement for a service dog is training for these tasks, and as important, the ability to go into public places and behave well in all situations. Public venue training is key to the Federal ADA law that allows a dog in public places, such as restaurants, stores and airplanes. An untrained dog that keeps you calm at home, with a vest bought on-line, is far from a legal service dog under the law in public places.

Why Use Service Dogs for Psychological Needs?

Dogs naturally read humans for mood, body chemistry and other physiological changes. Their willingness to bond with and serve their human makes for a perfect working team. With the aid of service dogs people are able to immediately feel their symptoms ease. Working with doctor or therapist, many people using service dogs can reduce their medications; some totally stop them. A service dog is not a cure for PTSD, but it allows an individual back into the community with comfort and support. One meaningful sentence is often repeated among service dog owners, “It gave me my life back.” Powerful.

 If Alaska Assistance Dogs is not training any more, how can it help me?

Alaska Assistance Dogs is now focusing on education, referral to reputable professional service dog trainers, and information resources. Current problems in our field are “fake” service dogs and poorly self-trained dogs, even poorly trained agency-related service dogs. It can not be emphasized enough that a service dog is not one that can be picked up at a shelter, given a few commands and, with an on-line purchased vest, become a safe, supportive working dog. The liability for that scenario alone is huge. Service dogs are animals with special temperaments, excellent health lineage and solid training for the rigors of public life. Service dogs are neutered or spayed, do not run around with prong collars because they don’t behave, are taught ONLY with positive reinforcement techniques, and have a lot of public venue experience.

The intent for this website is to keep Alaskans well-informed about what a service dog is, how to get one, what the laws require, and how to get help when things go awry. There will be articles about choosing the right dog, where to get initial obedience training and how to find an experienced professional trainer. AAD is mentoring a wonderful new service dog organizaition in Fairbanks (Look for TOPADS in organization referrals). A very exciting project we are undertaking is to help start a Veterans-for-Veterans service dog organization in Anchorage. In February we will join with the VA Mental Health Wellness Council in Anchorage and Dr. Camilla Madden, VA recovery psychologist, to put it all together (see information under PTSD in Programs). We have many options and a lot of work to do in education. Carole Shay, LPC, would like to do some therapeutic programs in Mat-Su Valley for autism and school programs. Watch for announcements on this site.

Please be patient with us. It will take a few more weeks to bring this site up to par as far as information and reference materials. Thank you!