UNCW Students in One-of-a-Kind Program Lend Their Paws to Service Dog Graduation

A paws4people service dog meets his human companion Photo by Joan Brady.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Individuals with disabilities will gain new furry companions during the spring 2012 paws4people TM and paws4vetsTM  assistance dog graduation ceremony noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 31 at the Carolina Beach Courtyard by Marriott,100 Charlotte Ave. More than 20 service dogs will receive their official assistance dog vests and will be recognized along with their new partners.

This event is organized by students participating in the University of North Carolina Wilmington/paws4peopleTM Assistance Dog Training Program. The unique program, the only of its kind in the nation, began exclusively at UNC Wilmington in fall 2011. Students in various fields of study are educated on the training and utilization of assistance dogs over four semesters. As part of their coursework, the students have worked with and learned from many of the clients who are being honored at the graduation ceremony.

In the last two semesters of the assistance dog training program, each student will be responsible 24/7 for a dog in training who will be placed with a person with a disability. The unique training will set UNCW students apart as they compete for jobs in fields such as recreation therapy and education. After graduating, students who complete all four semesters of the program will become eligible to receive a custom-trained paws4peopleTM assistance dog to use as part of their chosen career.

Media will have the opportunity to interview UNCW students, new assistance dog handlers and others at the event.

Since 1999, the paws4peopleTM foundation has been training and placing specialized dogs through the paws4peopleTM program, primarily with adolescents under 14 who live with physical, emotional, psychological and physiological challenges. The paws4vetsTM program places service dogs with active duty military and veterans with ailments including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

Each paws4peopleTM service dog is trained for up to 18 months in one of five federal and state prison facilities by inmates before being "bumped" with a client. A "bump" is the act of introducing dogs to a potential client and seeing which dog chooses the client.

Kyria Henry, founder of paws4peopleTM foundation, said, "After the bump, paws4peopleTM provides individual intervention transfer training to each client. This ensures that all service dog handlers are fully trained in not only how to utilize their working partner, but also how to ensure their safety and behavior at all times."

Henry, who founded paws4peopleTM at age 12, developed the curriculum for the UNCW Assistance Dog Training Program and currently teaches the program's classes.

Today, paws4peopleTM services the nine states of the mid-Atlantic region and is staffed by more than 150 volunteers and approximately 70 federal and state inmates. As of 2011, paws4peopleTM dogs and handlers have conducted more than 322,000 educational and therapeutic contacts during more than 19,200 visits. More than 200 paws4peopleTM  dogs are in private placement, training or operational programs. For more information, visit http://paws4people.org.

Media Contacts:
UNCW: Joy Davis, Marketing and Communications, 910.632.3903 or davisjc@uncw.edu
paws4peopleTM: Terry Henry, 276.299.0292 or questions@paws4people.org