Two Downtown campus students are part of a local nonprofit organization that trains service dogs and are expected to win a substantial grant to help give dogs to wounded community servants free of charge.
The Foundation for Service Dog Support is a nonprofit group based in Glendale. The organization provides training resources for service dog teams, helps increase public awareness of the role of service dogs and supports those who rely on the animals, according to CJ Betancourt, the executive director of the foundation.
Journalism senior Alli Cannon has participated in the program since May. One of her college classes required her to complete six hours of community service for any volunteer organization, and she picked FSDS. She got her first dog, a Boxer named Nala, on the last day of class for the spring semester.
“I fell in love with the organization,” Cannon said. “I have a huge soft spot for dogs.”
Sophomore Becky Brooks, double-majoring in biological sciences and nonprofit business leadership management, is in the process of training her second dog, a Labrador and Shar-Pei mix named Bailey she received in April. Brooks trained her first dog, a purebred Labrador named Zeus, and gave him to an injured police officer in her senior year of high school.
“I learned a lot from the program,” Brooks said. “I came to the program after sustaining an injury so I couldn’t play sports anymore. I learned what people with disabilities go through and what a dog can do for them.”
Cannon and Brooks, along with other dog trainers, train service dogs for a year and a half prior to giving them to someone in need. In April, Cannon and Brooks’ dogs will graduate from the program and receive new masters.
FSDS grants service dogs to injured or disabled first responders, public safety personnel and other community servants, Betancourt said in an email.
The foundation participated in Albertsons Community Partners Challenge, a national contest that awarded $25,000 to the organization with the most votes. FSDS ended the voting period on Oct. 15 with 750 more votes than its closest competitor, Cannon said.
“Winning this contest would allow us to give 4 dogs away, completely free of charge to a community hero,” Cannon said. It costs between $6,500 and $15,000 to fully train a service dog, she added.
Dogs in the training stage attend classes one day per week, Cannon said. For the first six months, the dogs learn basic obedience skills. The remainder of the time is spent on activities like opening doors or barking for help when necessary. The dogs stay with the trainers everywhere they go, including school and the movies, Cannon added.
In addition to providing wounded servicemen and servicewomen with trained dogs, the grant would also further the foundation’s emphasis on increasing youth participation.
“This (award) will help to underwrite the cost of training and the expansion of our ability to promote youth education in our community,” Betancourt said in an email. “The FSDS is proud of our history and ongoing commitment to youth education, and is excited to involve youths actively in the training process.”
Cannon and Brooks have taken action to involve more college students in training service dogs by starting a club called Campus K9’s on the Tempe campus.
“A lot of people wait until something is seriously wrong before getting involved,” Cannon said. “We need to recognize that something is wrong in the community and make it better and more inclusive.”
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Clarification: November 1, 2011
An earlier version of this article stated that Foundation for Service Dog Support already received the grant award. The foundation finished Albertsons Community Partnership Challenge with the most votes but winners have not officially been announced as of publication time.