Pawsitivity Service Dogs is featured in the July issue of Saint Paul Magazine! Pawsitivity Service Dogs Is Changing the Lives of Families Affected by Autism Julie and Tom Coleman of Pawsitivity Service Dogs with Sydney, dog in training. PHOTO BY: MARISSA MARTINSON When Tom and Julie Coleman founded Pawsitivity Service Dogs four years ago, it was not just a clever name. They’re on a mission to bring positivity into the lives of families who are challenged with a connection to severe autism and other disabilities associated with the autism spectrum. “We are changing lives one dog at a time,” says Tom Coleman, who with his wife Julie trains autism service and therapy dogs for children. Tom and Julie’s journey began after meeting a friend with an autistic son and seeing how much a dog was helping the boy. “He wasn’t even a trained dog,” says Tom, who upon further research found that at the time, nobody in Minnesota was training autism service dogs. “We don’t have our own kids, so we thought, ‘How can we help these children?’ We founded this charity, and the idea is that things can be positive and things can get better.” Service dogs can help children with autism in many ways. “If a child becomes severely agitated, the dog will sit on the lap of the child, and the weight and pressure of the dog can assist them with calming,” says Tom, who also explains how service dogs can help autistic children who have issues with wandering or running off. He calls service dogs a “kid magnet” and says that the dogs are often a social bridge, helping with the isolation and loneliness having autism often brings. “If you’ve met one person with autism, then you’ve met one person with autism. They’re all so different,” says Tom, who says this is the reason why Pawsitivity selects and trains each dog on an individual basis. Autism can be associated with other disabilities, known as comorbidity, which can include psychiatric disabilities such as major depression, severe anxiety, and panic attacks and also seizures, and the dogs are trained to meet those specific needs. “We just train two or three dogs a year. It’s very intense, very focused. We go to the doctors’ appointments with the child if necessary. We have the dogs 24-7, and they are constantly getting training,” says Tom, who adds that each dog undergoes 900 hours of training typically over a 12-month period. Currently Pawsitivity has a wait list, which is closed. The Colemans primarily rescue golden retrievers and Labrador breeds for training, and adult dogs are chosen over puppies so that their temperament is known. “From start to finish, we control the whole process. They’re all ‘second chance’ dogs,” Tom says. “We go through this checklist of what dog would be appropriate, and about one out of 1,000 dogs is. Smart dogs tend to be high energy, and low-energy dogs tend to be not very trainable. It’s hard to find one that is low energy and smart enough.” Tom explains that the dogs cannot be afraid of anything or be aggressive in any way, such as barking at cats. They also need to be healthy and the right age. The dogs are trained only with positive reinforcement techniques. Training exercises include “proofing a dog’s commands, such as performing a strict heel through the distractions of the barking, sniffing or lunging of other dogs in a dog park,” Julie says. Pawsitivity Service Dogs is a partner member of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, and each dog is individually trained for the handler's disability, circumstances, and needs. Christy and Joe Wills’ son Henry is 9 years old. The Wills family received their service dog, Bailey, two years ago to assist with Henry’s conditions: autism, ocular albinism, global developmental delays, epilepsy, hypotonic muscles and chronic sleep dis-regulation. “Our biggest hope was that Bailey would keep Henry from running away and getting lost or injured,” says Christy Wills. “Henry has many medical issues, and we are frequently at doctor appointments. He has a hard time waiting in line to check-in and waiting in the lobby or exam room. Henry doesn’t try to bolt when he is tethered to Bailey. He is much more calm and able to wait without a meltdown. Just last week a woman approached and asked, ‘What’s your dog’s name?’ Henry actually answered for the first time ... If Henry did not have a service dog, that opportunity to practice social skills would not have happened. Bailey is a wonderful social bridge.” Special education teacher Mary Ostmoe received her dog Olaf from Pawsitivity to use as a therapy dog in her classroom, working with autistic students at Salk Middle School in Elk River, Minn. “Olaf’s No. 1 function is to illicit smiles and happiness. He does this well. He is also very calming to students who are overstimulated or agitated,” Ostmoe says. “Many of my students have sensory issues, and I can usually talk them down as we both sit on the floor and pet Olaf.” “Having Olaf in my class has increased the community feel of our school,” Ostmoe adds. “I have never had so many general education kids stop by my room to see him, which has increased communication and friendships with my special needs students. He calms kids and makes them feel good about themselves. Kids love dogs.” The process of training each dog costs $35,000. Each family is required to raise 50 percent of the amount through fundraising. “I started out asking friends, family, coworkers and local businesses,” Ostmoe says. “Then I set up an account on GoFundMe and wrote many grants that were funded. The Josh Richardson Youth Arts Foundation donated $5,000. Sidewalk Dog also held a fundraiser for Olaf, and the Lions Club was extremely generous.” The Wills family also did online fundraising with help from friends and family. “Yes, a service dog is expensive,” Wills says. “If you consider how much time, talent and skill go into training a service dog, it’s really not that much, though.” Pawsitivity has been recognized for excellence in the nonprofit world, receiving the Humane Charity Seal of Approval and a Gold Charity rating by Guidestar Exchange. Pawsitivity was also awarded the Top-rated Nonprofit Seal by GreatNonprofits. “Only 2.2 percent of the cost goes to administration,” Tom says. Pawsitivity is a 501(c)3 and accepts donations, which are tax-deductible. “The most rewarding part is hearing how families can now go places with their child with autism, which was virtually impossible before they got the dog,” Julie says. A service dog can help: Remind the child (or parent) to take medication. Improve organization by reminding the handler to perform her or his daily routines. Wake the child to prevent him or her from sleeping too much (hypersomnia). Provide tactile stimulation. Reassure the handler, both at home and in public. Facilitate social interactions and reduce fear associated with meeting new people. Assist the handler in creating a safe personal space. Assist the handler when dealing with mood swings. Serve as a buffer to calm the handler and reduce feelings of emotional distress in crowded places. Help a child calm down when agitated. Reorient and ground children to the current place and time when struggling with post-traumatic stress episodes. Service dogs also help in ways that are not particular to a specific diagnosis. During a manic episode, psychiatric service dogs assist the child by providing tactile stimulation. This can calm racing thoughts, sooth irritability, and alleviate hyper-focus and hyper-locomotion. In addition to aiding children with clinical symptoms, these service dogs can help with more general symptoms, such as sadness and loneliness, by initiating walks outside the home and showing the child affection.
Thank you to all of our wonderful volunteers! It really takes a village to train and prepare Pawsitivity dogs for the important work they will do. We are very grateful for everyone who has volunteered, donated, or helped us in any way. In this newsletter, we're giving a special shout-out to the volunteers who have worked with Pawsitivity this year (so far!). If you're interested in helping, too, please let us know! Say Congrats to Our Top 2015 Volunteers!Brenda Knapp-Polzin donates monthly through her work, and here she is meeting Syd, one of the dogs assisted by her donations. Candy and Steve Aliano gave Pawsitivity a very special gift this spring, donating all the way from New Port Richey in Florida! Cheers to Pawsitivity's New Board of Directors!Dave Mackmiller (Treasurer), Tom Coleman (pictured, but not on the board), Julie Coleman (Training Director and board member), Dr. Michelle Parkinson (Vice President), Dr. Todd Savage (Secretary), and Dr. Kris Butler (Chair)!. We are very grateful for this amazing team! Top Fundraisers!Thank you to Clarice Chikazawa and Frank Tschudyida for throwing a Pawsitivity fundraising party! They've also introduced us to the wonderful teams at Herzing University in Minneapolis, MN, who are studying to change lives through health care! Dr. Kim Halvorson of Metro State University donates her time and experience by proofreading all the medical information on Pawsitivity's website! Dr. Jen Seidl and Grand Avenue Veterinary Center cheerfully donate all spaying, neutering, and checkups for Pawsitivity Dogs! We're so thankful for all the assistance and great care they provide. Herzing University in Minneapolis, MN invited Pawsitivity to visit a class of Occupational Therapy Assistant students. Here they are pictured with service-dog-in-training, Lena. The Dental Assisting and Dental Hygiene departments at Herzing will be throwing a fundraising party for Pawsitivity later this year! The Susan Janda and David Milne family threw a fundraiser for Pawsitivity last year, and they are helping to socialize the current dogs in training! Annie and Sarah Westawker have been helping with Pawsitivity dogs from the beginning. They socialize and walk the service-dogs-in-training, which is especially helpful because they're the same age as many recipients. The Woodbury Junior Girl Scouts threw a fundraiser for Pawsitivity in May! Syd was a special guest at the party and she had a wonderful time. Thank you to all the Junior Girl Scouts and your families for all your time, effort, and wonderful generosity!Thank you again to everyone who volunteers, donates, spreads the word about Pawsitivity, or helps us in any way. We really appreciate it!Warmly,Tom & Julie Coleman Tom Coleman, Executive Director Pawsitivity Service Dogs http://www.pawsitivityservicedogs.com Facebook Instagram Twitter 197 Griggs St. N., St Paul, MN, 55104 651-321-DOGS EIN 47-1446634 Rated "Gold" Charity by Guidestar Exchange Awarded "Top-Rated Nonprofit" Seal by GreatNonprofits Winner, Humane Charity Seal of Approval
Wow, Rover.com just wrote a really great article about the work of Autism Service Dogs!
The amazing John D. Docken, Vice President and Corporate Counsel, in Fargo, ND, did a fantastic job looking over some of our paperwork. Thank you!!!!!
Woodbury, Minnesota's Girl Scout Jr. troop was on the radio on myTalk 107.1 - Minneapolis/St. Paul talking about how they selected Pawsitivity Service Dogs as their favorite Minnesota charity, and how they threw a fundraiser for their Bronze Award and raised $700 to help service dogs and children with autism and other disabilities! Go Jr. Girl Scouts!!!
The wonderful Hoffman Weber construction company (in the Minneapolis, MN area) has donated a custom doghouse to Bailey and his boy, and they wrote a great blogpost about it! In the pictures below, Bailey is the Golden Retriever (the other dog in the top-right picture was visiting from Secondhand Hounds, a charity that Hoffman Weber is also building a dog house for, too...so cool!) Continue reading
We've just set up a new page: If you want to donate your car to a charity in Minnesota, please call 651-321-3647 to donate it to Pawsitivity Service Dogs in St. Paul, MN! If you are looking to trade in your station wagon, SUV, or truck for a new car (or even a used one) and you live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, while you don't get very much for your trade-in, but you can donate it to a charity. With this solution, not not only get the great feeling of helping with the mission of saving dogs and training them as service dogs for children, you get to write off the vehicle on your taxes. So, you basically get a third back from your donation (because you take it off of your income), and this tax-deductible donation can be a great way of giving back to the community. We all feel like we want to help make the world a better place, and since most of us don't really want to go through the hassle of selling your old car, donating the vehicle to charity can be a great way of helping out in a direct and positive way. Pawsitivity Service Dogs only has a sedan right now, which really doesn't suit the needs of the families we work with, as most of them have some sort of minivan, SUV, or station wagon for their families, and the dogs should really be trained to work with these kinds of vehicles. It's quite a high jump to get into these taller cars, and training with our sedan doesn't really do it. Plus, our sedan has so many miles on it that going cross-country to adopt a dog isn't really practicable. But your truck, SUV, or station wagon doesn't have to be low miles, it just has to be somewhat reliable...and you'll get the full Private Party Blue Book value to write off on your taxes! It will help if you live in Minnesota, but if you live in Wisconsin or a neighboring state and wish to drive your donated car to us, we're in St. Paul, MN, and you can always just drive it here, if you wish. If you do live in Minnesota, we can even come and pick up the car, if you want. Call us today at 651-321-3647 to donate your car to charity. Continue reading
Thank you, Al Peters, Executive Director of Can Do Canines, for writing a letter of recommendation for Pawsitivity's application to Assistance Dogs International! 5/5/16: Candidate status approved!
Thank you to everyone who voted! Bailey, an autism service dog that Pawsitivity trained a few years ago, has, thanks to your votes, won an awesome custom dog house! The dog house will be built by Hoffman Weber Construction, and the contest was held by Sidewalk Dog (the best local resource for finding out where to take your dog!) Continue reading
Mary Ostmoe, a special education teacher at Salk Middle School in Elk River, MN, gave a presentation to to a meeting of the School Board, and along with her family and student Nathan Hawk, she got to tell the Board how Olaf, a certified Pawsitivity therapy dog, is making a huge difference at school! Continue reading