By: Zoee S., Grand Editor
Hello California Rainbow! I am so excited to share with you more about our Grand Service Project, Pawsitive Teams. I had the chance to interview the Executive Director of this nonprofit organization, Eileen Heveron. Eileen told me Pawsitive Teams was started 25 years ago in San Diego by two local women…and one dog. She then explained their mission was to enhance the lives of individuals with special needs in San Diego County through the use of highly trained service and therapy dogs. Pawsitive Teams has three programs they train dogs under: service dogs, facility dogs, and therapy dogs.
Pawsitive Teams specializes in training Service dogs to work with mobility limited individuals. These dogs are trained once a week during group training, otherwise, they are at home, at work and around town every day with their volunteer trainer learning very specific commands. Formal specific activities occur in short sessions throughout the day so as to not overwhelm the dog. A lot of the time during these sessions the trainers have to break down the command into tiny pieces to help the dog understand the specific task they need to do, which takes a lot of time and effort. For example, if you drop your keys or wallet the dog needs to recognize to pick up the item and give it back to their person specifically and then whether to place it back into the person’s hand or in their lap. They will even learn to give something to a sales clerk in a store, and these choices all depend on the specific commands. Anything we do in our day-to-day lives can be/needs to be translated into a request that the service dog can understand. The service dogs Pawsitive Teams works with come from different breeders they know and are labs, golden retrievers or lab/golden crosses. These dogs are usually dogs who have the right temperament and have the physical conformation to help a disabled person.
Facility dogs are dogs that go to work with their professional partner at a specific workplace to help clients. They are trained in obedience and specialty cues. An example of where a facility dog might work is in the court system. Currently, Eileen says they have one facility dog who goes to work with the Victims Advocate in Family Court where the dog supports children who might need to testify in court.
Therapy dogs can be dogs of any breed and who are pet dogs. They go through Pawsitive Teams’ Therapy Dog Prep School with their owner who wants to train their dog to become a therapy dog. Therapy dogs are typically dogs that are loving and have good temperaments. Pawsitive Teams also offers a specialized therapy dog program, called Pawsitive Animal Assisted Therapy. These Goal Directed Therapy Dog volunteers can work with kids that have physical/developmental limitations or with veterans who have PTSD or a serious injury coming back from war. Pawsitive Teams now work with eight partner organizations in this program to help serve people with special needs.
The Service and Facility dogs from Pawsitive Teams take about two years to be trained. After the dog is trained, they are matched to a person who has applied for a dog; matching is based on what the dog can do and what the person needs the dog to be able to do. This transition from the trainer to the new owner takes about three months to accomplish. This process is needed so the dog will know to follow the new owner’s requests, rather than following its original trainer.
In order to be matched with a dog from Pawsitive Teams, people need to apply and unfortunately, they don’t have enough dogs for all their applications and not enough trainers to train a possible new puppy coming in if all the trainers are already working with a dog. In the past 18 months, Pawsitive Teams logged close to 150 applications for service dogs and have been training six dogs, so they would like to grow to serve more people. When a person does get matched with one of their dogs, Pawsitive Teams supports that dog throughout their life, helping the owner in emergencies and retesting the dog every two years until the dog retires or sadly passes away.
Eileen told me about a memorable sponsorship. Eileen’s dad, before he had passed away, told her he wanted to do something for the dogs! He left a donation to sponsor a Pawsitive Teams service dog, which Eileen and her family decided to name “Duffy” after her dad. Turns out, everyone knew Eileen’s dad as Uncle Duffy! Duffy was a yellow lab who was placed with a woman who had a service dog previously with Pawsitive Teams that had passed away. The woman had seen Duffy when he was a puppy since Duffy was being trained by the same trainer as her former service dog. She said when Duffy was little that he would be her next service dog, which isn’t how it works but she was very insistent. She even had his photo on her desktop! Low and behold Duffy became her service dog. Another cool pairing was when a woman was getting married, her Pawsitive Teams service dog walked down the aisle with flowers around his neck just like a flower girl. As you can see Pawsitive Teams dogs have a special impact on individuals and on the community. Pawsitive Teams is a very hands-on dedicated organization. Their tagline for this year, their 25th anniversary, is “Pawsitively Changing Lives for 25 Years!” Eileen told me that all of Pawsitive Teams is so excited California Rainbow has chosen to support them and can’t wait to work more with them! I also can’t wait to see what California Rainbow can do for Pawsitive Teams!