Pups pass on positivity in volunteer program

They don’t call them man’s best friend for nothing, and NAU’s Office of Employee Assistance and Wellness recently provided a first-hand look at just how valuable these four-legged comrades can be.

The group, which provides free services for NAU employees and their families for a variety of work-related concerns, recently sponsored a wellness program called “Who Is That Doggy in the Office.” There, a captive audience of dog-loving NAU employees learned the benefits of training service dogs.

“We sponsored the program because we had a service-dog-in-training in our office for about a year, and it was a wonderful experience,” said Tricia Fortin, health educator for Employee Assistance and Wellness. “We received so much interest and so many questions from other employees that we decided to inform more people of what a wonderful program Canine Co-Pilots is.”

Jana Edmondson, executive director of the local non-profit agency, Canine Co-Pilots, explained how her organization matches highly skilled assistance dogs with people who are disabled and in need of a service animal. Trainers typically spend between a year-and-a-half to two years bonding with and improving the dog’s skills. They are then paired with someone in need.

The specially trained dogs can help in a variety of different ways, such as alerting a deaf person when a smoke alarm is going off or helping to retrieve or carry items.

“Service dogs help increase a person’s independence so they rely less on attendant care,” Edmondson added.

Canine companionship, getting out more often and the inevitable conversations resulting from having a working dog in public combats loneliness, explained Edmondson, who has placed 10 service dogs since starting Canine Co-Pilots in 2004.

Fortin said having a dog in the office every day provided comfort and entertainment to the staff and also to clients, and hopes the workshop encourages others on campus to consider becoming a service dog trainer.

“It’s a wonderful way to volunteer and you have the chance to really make a difference in the lives of those in need,” she said. “As a trainer, you really get a lot out of it.”

For information about Canine Co-Pilots or to volunteer, visit www.caninecopilots.com or call (877) 596-6366.