It was heartbreaking. The young dog, Kendrick, had been part of the Wolf clan for about six weeks.
Then again, the Wolfs have grown accustomed to these separations. The family fosters and helps train dogs for special-needs children who need them as helpers.
"Kendrick will be a rough one to give up," said Wolf, a Broadview Heights councilman. "He's been super good. But we know it's for a greater cause."
Amanda and Karen Wolf with Kendrick. (Photo courtesy of The Wolf Family)
That cause is W.A.G.S. 4 Kids, which stands for Working Animals Giving Service for Kids. The nonprofit, founded in 2004, trains service dogs, with assistance from families like the Wolfs, then turns them over to special-needs families in Northeast and Central Ohio. It has placed more than 60 dogs over the years.
The dogs are taught to comfort and calm autistic children who are overstimulated, at the command of the parents. The animals also help children who have restricted mobility, such as those who use wheelchairs, with chores and tasks.
Brian and his wife, Karen, became involved with the organization in 2010 when they obtained a W.A.G.S. service dog, Tommy, for their son Jack, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. When Tommy died in February 2018, the Wolfs -- including Jack's younger siblings, Mark, 17, and Amanda, 11 -- decided to foster dogs for W.A.G.S. So far, they have helped train seven dogs.
"We foster dogs because we know how important it is, and we had a dog, so we're trying to pay it forward," Karen said. "We realize the importance of a dog learning a family environment before going out to the family they're placed in."
The Wolfs were one of the first families to receive a W.A.G.S. service dog, and the family has raised funds for the nonprofit. In 2017, W.A.G.S. gave the Wolfs its Family First Award for their contributions.
"I have no words, except we love them," said Sera Nelson, W.A.G.S. spokesperson. "They have been a wonderful family, and they have become part of our family at W.A.G.S."
The Wolfs first learned of W.A.G.S. about 10 years ago. Another family they knew had a service dog, and Jack, who was 10 at the time, thought he might benefit from one. Brian and Karen found W.A.G.S. online.
W.A.G.S. visited the Wolf home to see what Jack's typical day was like. He needed assistance picking up things he had dropped on the floor, placing dirty laundry in the hamper, putting on his coat and pressing the blue handicapped door button when entering school. Tommy was trained to help Jack with all of those tasks.
Brian said Tommy was the first service dog ever to walk into a Brecksville-Broadview Heights school building.
"The teachers loved it," Wolf said. "There were even some teachers who said they had allergies, but they had no problems with Tommy."
The entire community knew Tommy, because he accompanied Jack everywhere -- and Jack has been an active guy. He was in the Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School marching band, and Tommy attended every band practice and marched during games.
Jack Wolf and his brother Mark pose with Tommy. (Photo courtesy of The Wolf Family)
"Tommy made Jack more approachable," Brian said. "People don't go up to kids in wheelchairs and start talking to them. But the dog attracted a lot more people who really did have an interest in talking to Jack."
Mark said Tommy wasn't just Jack's friend, but was part of the Wolf family, accompanying them on cruises and vacations.
"We never had pets before -- just goldfish -- so it was cool just to have a pet," Mark said.
Tommy died from lymphoma almost a year ago, just as Jack was preparing for college. Jack started attending the University of Akron in the fall.
"When a pet passes away, it's sad for anyone, but it was a little more so with Tommy, because he helped us so much," Amanda said.
Friends of the Wolfs saw Jack without Tommy and asked what had happened.
"The whole community was kind of sad for Tommy," Karen said. "It was kind of overwhelming at first."
It was Karen's idea to start fostering service dogs for W.A.G.S. The Wolfs weren't ready for another family dog after Tommy died, and Jack wasn't sure if he would need another service animal in college.
At W.A.G.S., dogs start training at 8 weeks old -- in prison, under a a contract with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Inmates at the Grafton and Mansfield correctional institutions are taught how to train the dogs, and the animals actually live in prison cells for about a year.
"It's our way of providing an opportunity for inmates to have a better life when they get out by learning a true, tangible trade," Nelson said.
Training starts with basic commands, such as "sit" and "lie down." Then dogs are taught to address a particular child's specific needs, such as interrupting autistic behavior -- including rocking, pacing and hand-flapping -- by cuddling or lying across the child's lap.
"Instead of the behavior lasting 90 minutes, it ends after 10 minutes," Nelson said. "That's amazing."
For children with mobility issues, dogs are trained to flip light switches, open refrigerators and grab soft drinks.
After leaving prison, the dogs spend a few weeks with a foster family.
"The dogs don't know anything about stairs or carpeting after being trained in prison, so they have to get used to it," Karen said. "They have to get used to kids and crowds of mixed people."
According to W.A.G.S., it costs $28,000 to train, house, feed and provide veterinary care for a service dog. Families receiving dogs agree to raise $9,000, and W.A.G.S., through community donations, picks up the rest of the cost.
Brian distinguishes between W.A.G.S. dogs and "fake" service animals, which have been in the news lately. People buys vests and IDs for their pets and call them service animals, even though they have no or inadequate training. Then they try to take the animals into places, such as airplanes and some apartments, that normally don't allow them.
Nelson said W.A.G.S. is trying to educate the public about that issue. She said that only people with a diagnosed disability recognized in the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, and with a prescription from a therapist, can keep service animals where they normally aren't permitted.
This story about The Wolf Family also appeared on the front page of the Sun Star-Courier Sun News on January 10, 2019.
(Photo courtesy of The Wolf Family)
During Kendrick's time with the Wolfs, the family reinforced the training the dog received -- move in close, cuddle, express love. They even took Kendrick to restaurants.
"The waitresses say they didn't even know the dog was there, because they are trained not to beg for food," Brian said. "So if we have people over for a holiday, we have to make sure guests aren't giving the dog food on the side."
No one enjoyed Kendrick more than Jack, who is studying marketing at Akron U.
"Losing Tommy was pretty hard, because he helped me a lot," Jack said. "But fostering dogs is a good way to get back into having dogs again."