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Archive for Sunday, January 12, 1992

MAKE WAY FOR STETSON

January 12, 1992

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Lisa Clark's classroom at Schwegler School is home to 29 students 28 first graders and one 4-month-old German shepherd named Stetson.

The puppy is being raised by Mrs. Clark and her class for Kansas Specialty Dog Service Inc. (KSDS), in Washington, a not-for-profit company that trains and places support dogs with persons with disabilities.

Mrs. Clark said she had a long-standing desire to participate in such a project and last June learned of KSDS from Denise Kobuszewski, a Valley Falls veterinarian who is on KSDS' veterinary advisory board.

Kobuszewski and other members of the Kansas Veterinary Medical Assn. provide health care at free or reduced rates for KSDS dogs-in-training as well as those that have been placed.

Stetson's care, handled in Lawrence because of the pup's school-day schedule, is provided by veterinarian Tom Liebl of Clinton Parkway Animal Hospital as a service of the clinic.

THIS WEEKEND, Liebl, Kobuszewski and other KSDS veterinary volunteers are being recognized at KVMA's annual meeting in Kansas City.

Mrs. Clark said that after talking with the Valley Falls vet, she wrote KSDS about becoming a puppy raiser and was asked to provide personal background information as well as letters of recommendations.

As a member of the Lawrence Kennel Club with a golden retriever and a German shepherd of her own she turned to the local organization for support letters.

Subsequently, KSDS invited Mrs. Clark to Washington, in north-central Kansas, to attend its first "graduation" ceremony in early November. Three golden retrievers were presented by their "foster parents" to two boys and a young woman who used wheelchairs.

The retrievers are now service dogs for their new owners. The dogs have been trained to help pull, turn lights on or off and retrieve dropped articles.

KSDS ALSO trains guide dogs for people with visual disabilities and social dogs, which provide companionship for people in such facilities as hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

Bill Acree, KSDS president and executive director, said dogs, which cost $3,000 each to raise and train, were given at no cost to persons with disabilities or to qualified facilities, with the only stipulation that the animals not be abused.

To a person with disabilities, he added, having one of the specially trained dogs constitutes more than just a working relationship "It's companionship."

He noted KSDS was looking for more people, especially Kansans, with disabilities who needed dogs, as well as for puppy raisers, who could expect a couple of months' wait from the time they applied to actual receipt of a puppy, should they be accepted.

ABOUT 10,000 Kansans are either blind or have physical disabilities, he said, but there are less than 100 working dogs in the state.

KSDS now has 100 dogs in its care. The agency opened in September 1990 with start-up funds from the Kansas Department of Commerce, including lottery monies, and the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

By its fourth year it is to be operating without state funds, and Acree said the private sector already had been generous. In addition to monetary donations, KSDS has received such corporate support as dog food and other items from Iam's Pet Food, Dayton, Ohio, for the working life of every KSDS dog. Vaccines and wormers also have been donated by other firms, in addition to the veterinarians' and puppy raisers' work.

Of the dogs in KSDS' care today, Acree said, 44 are at the headquarters in Washington about half as breeding stock and half as older puppies in advanced training.

ADDITIONALLY, 43 younger puppies, like Stetson, are in foster homes in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.

Mrs. Clark picked up Stetson while in Washington for the November graduation.

Now, he comes to school with her every day.

"He loves it," she said, noting the point is to make him into a "nice, fun companion."

The children help with his socialization, she said, noting Stetson must learn not to be startled by loud noises or intimidated by a lot of touching.

Thanks to the children, Stetson also is becoming proficient in such tricks as shaking hands and kissing intended to make him endearing as a permanent companion and he is learning to pay attention to business on bathroom runs.

EACH DAY of the week, a different first-grader is assigned the responsibility of grooming the pup and tending him during bathroom breaks and recesses.

Last Tuesday, it was 6-year-old Sarah Elizabeth Allen's turn. Clipping his lead line to his collar, she walked Stetson from their classroom down the hall and outside to a grassy area to do his business.

"You have to tell him certain words," she explained.

If he relieves himself like he's supposed to, "You get him and say `Good Boy'."

If he doesn't? "You don't."

Sarah said she had two dogs at home, a hunting dog and a house dog, and so she was acquainted with many of the commands Stetson was being asked to learn.

She added though, that after only two months at school, Stetson already minded better than the two dogs at her house.

MRS. CLARK said the pup was required to learn 42 commands at the "beginning obedience" level.

Each month, she sends a progress report to KSDS, which details his responses to specific commands, which increase in number as he gets older.

KSDS also seeks regular information on the pup's reactions to different situations, people and other animals.

Mrs. Clark explained KSDS' breeding stock was being carefully chosen to produce pups with given physical and temperamental traits that would ensure sound, trainable companion dogs with good dispositions.

Some donated dogs also are accepted, which may or may not enter the breeding program, but Acree said such animals must meet strict specifications.

KSDS must see a four-generation pedigree on any donated stock, he said, to ensure sound hips and elbows, which the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals certifies, as well as good eyes and proof of trainability, which is judged by an accumulation of competition titles.

"We do a lot of checks," Acree said.

SERVICE and guide dogs must be golden retrievers, black and yellow Laboradors, German shepherds or boxers; social dogs can be of different breeds, and Acree said some greyhounds had entered the social dog program through arrangements with the Wichita Greyhound Park and TRAK East, the Woodlands, at Kansas City.

Stetson, for his part, hasn't a clue about his service future, but even now he's helping Sarah and her classmates learn.

There's arithmetic, from weighing and measuring him regularly; English, from writing stories about him; and responsibility from caring for him.

Sometimes, veterinarian Liebl comes to Mrs. Clark's classroom to give Stetson his exams and vaccinations, explaining to the children what he's doing and why.

Liebl said he hopes some of what he tells the children carries over with their own physical exams.

"I THINK it makes them a little more comfortable when they go to the doctor," he said, adding, "Stetson gets lots of exams from the kids" too.

Mrs. Clark said the pup also was helping her students become aware of people with disabilities and he was building their self-esteem.

"I see a feeling of pride growing," Mrs. Clark said. "I talk about how we are raising him."

Because Stetson won't go back to KSDS for advanced training until next fall, Mrs. Clark said she thought the inevitable separation wouldn't be too hard on the children, who will have "graduated" themselves from her class and be in second grade by then.

For them, it should be "just like leaving another friend."

For her, though, it may be another matter.

"He's a charmer," she said. "He's a pretty special dog."

For information on applying for a service dog, or to become a puppy raiser, contact Kansas Specialty Dog Service, Inc., P.O. Box 216, 124 W. Seventh, Washington, Kan. 66968, phone 913-325-2256.

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