The story of Pawsitivity Service Dogs starts with a boy and his dog. In 2012 the two of us, Tom and Julie Coleman, had a conversation with a good friend, a single mother with a child with autism. She told us the story how her boy was so greatly helped by his dog that it changed the course of his life.
To help provide trained service dogs for families (and rescue dogs at the same time), we founded the nonprofit Pawsitivity Service Dogs to rescue dogs and train them as Service Dogs, focusing on children with autism. When a dog isn't appropriate for a child, we train the dog for an adult with a disability. Since 2012, the organization has earned the Platinum Standard from Guidestar and achieved the highest rating by the Charities Review Council--unheard-of feats for a new nonprofit. Additionally, Julie earned the title of CPDT-KA, and together, we wrote a groundbreaking 500-page textbook on Service Dog training, which then won the 2016 Midwest Book Award. Pawsitivity has consistently led the way with scientifically-based positive training, a focus on underserved populations such as people with autism and epilepsy, and a commitment to staying small and only training two to three dogs per year so we can give individualized attention and keep standards high.
It's hard to admit how much the thought of breaking new ground to found Pawsitivity scared us, and the more we worked, the more we found new challenges. Rescuing and training Service Dogs and getting them into the hands of the people who need them so badly takes not just dogs, not just trainers, but also a whole coordinated system of organization. How to fight the Goliath of regulations, fundraising, insurance, licensing, board creation, the costs of training and a decade of support, as well as finding the emotional strength to manage the years of tears and heartache that comes with working with both rescue dogs and people with disabilities? We quickly found that we couldn't do it alone.
We found the key to Pawsitivity's sustainable success by leveraging the power of the community. In addition to Pawsitivity's strong board of directors (which includes three doctorates), we discovered help in many ways: Grand Avenue Veterinary Center vowed to manage the spaying and neutering, Garrison Keillor donated autographed items to be auctioned off, John D. Docken VP and Corporate Counsel of First Intl. Bank & Trust of ND, MN, and AZ advised on compliance, plus the Minnesota Wild awarded Pawsitivity "Charity of the Month." Together, we discovered that unwanted dogs can be rescued and rehabilitated, the dogs and families can be trained to work as effective dog-handler teams, and experts can be used in every step of the way. And Pawsitivity discovered that you, too, can be part of the solution.