“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

~ Roger Caras

In 1870, lawyer and former United States Senator George Graham Vest delivered his closing remarks on behalf of a Warrensburg, Missouri farmer attempting to recoup damages after his dog, Old Drum, was shot by a neighbor. “The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog,” Vest remarked.  

The farmer won the case and Vest’s remarks became known as “Eulogy of the Dog.” The speech is considered to be the origin of the phrase “man’s best friend.”

In today’s society, canines are becoming widely recognized for being more than just loyal companions. In fact, for many people, the therapeutic value of dogs far surpasses the idea of mere friendship. Such is the case with dogs involved with the Service Dogs for America (SDA) program, which was founded in 1989 by three men who were inspired to do their best to impact the lives of individuals with disabilities.

According to Executive Director Jenny BrodKorb, the SDA’s mission is to train and certify service dogs for individuals with disabilities. “SDA continues the rich tradition established by its founders of encouraging and empowering those with special needs by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support,” she said.

For BrodKorb, the job is all about the satisfaction she receives knowing that the organization’s dogs are filling an essential need. “Knowing someone’s life is changed forever through the partnership of a service dog is an amazing gift,” she said.

For those living with a disability, life can be challenging to say the least. That is where the SDA comes in. “Our dogs have very specialized training, education, and skills, developed over months of instruction by our experienced trainers and kennel staff,” BrodKorb explained. “The dogs learn behaviors which go beyond basic and advanced obedience so as to alleviate the struggles of their life partner’s disability.”

Those behaviors include picking up/delivering items, finding exits quickly, bracing for stability, pushing call buttons, opening doors, and blocking/creating personal space in crowds. For SDA’s clients, the value of that support cannot be measured. “Getting a service dog changes a person’s self-perspective and boosts confidence as they work together to increase physical, emotional, and social self-sufficiency,” BrodKorb said.

One misconception many lay people have is that a service dog is equivalent to any other canine. “A SDA service dog is not a family pet,” BrodKorb explained. “A trained service dog is a tool and should be no more visible in public than eyeglasses or a cane.” In addition, service dogs are not intended to substitute or replace therapeutic or medical treatment and are not trained to be guard dogs or act aggressively. “He/she has a specific function to assist his/her human partner.”

SDA is the only non-profit provider of service dogs in North Dakota and the only ADI (Assistance Dogs International) accredited service dog organization in North Dakota. “We are also the only ADI accredited organization actively placing PTSD service dogs with both veterans and non-military individuals,” BrodKorb explained. “SDA trains and places services dogs for PTSD, emergency medical response (diabetic response and seizure alert), mobility assistance, and facility visitation.”

Like most non-profit agencies, the SDA relies primarily on the generosity of its donors, which sometimes just isn’t enough. “It is expensive to breed, acquire, house, feed, train, and place service dogs – in addition to all of the other business related expenses (utilities, building, taxes, payroll, etc.),” BrodKorb said. “We do our best to provide funding assistance to individuals receiving a service dog from our organization, but the only way we can do this is through the donations of our generous supporters.”

To that end, BrodKorb would like to encourage those with the ability to help to do so, in any way possible. In addition to financial challenges, finding volunteers, foster homes, and staff can also be problematic, although the SDA has always managed to find a way.

“We have been blessed, however, with many valuable humans over the years, and we are grateful for every person who has been, is, and will be involved with the organization,” she said. “Every person leaves a lasting impact and no gesture, donation, or contribution is too small.”

If you would like more information about the SDA or how you can help, visit www.servicedogsforamerica.org.

By Jamee Larson