At W.A.G.S. 4 Kids, we believe that everyone has the potential to make a positive impact on the lives of others. It's because of this belief that we're especially proud to work with the inmates of the Ohio Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (ODRC). Since 2007, our team has partnered with the ODRC using an award-winning, accredited Service Dog Training Program, allowing us to apprentice inmate trainers who then train W.A.G.S. 4 Kids service dogs. As these men prepare to re-enter society, they're learning a skill that can be used later in life, as well as learning what it means to change the lives of children with special needs.
Our inmate trainers work with their service dogs in training for months, teaching them many of the essential skills they will need to serve their child partner so that upon graduation, their dog is ready to be placed with its family. For 13 years, this graduation has included a ceremony celebrating the accomplishments of each dog and all of the trainers involved in their upbringing. Each family is invited into the correctional facility, and as we hand over the leash we ask "who here has had a hand in raising this service dog". To see all the hands go up is a moment no family will ever forget. This is a moment of pride for every man in that room to take ownership in knowing their efforts are about to change the whole world for one child and their family. 2020 has taken these precious moments away from us and away from them, but it can never take away the pride felt by the men who live with, raise, and train these priceless service dogs. The W.A.G.S. 4 Kids service dog to most recently graduate from her training is Linda. When Linda and her trainer, Shaun, parted, Shaun wrote a letter to Linda's new owner, Ben. It is with his permission that we share those words with you.
Shaun's letter to Ben:
“These are all of the commands that Linda knows. I don’t think I’ve missed any. Linda is a great dog!! One of my personal favorites so far to train as well as spend time with. I had her for about eight months. She has a long list of commands she knows and does great. That’s wonderful, but my favorite things about her are not listed with those commands. She has a great personality! She is such a loving dog! She lives for your love and attention. Well, and to play. Lol! She loves her play time (fetch). You will see how loyal she is. If you’re her person, you’re her person! Myself and the other trainers will miss having her around, BUT are all also so happy she is coming home to you to help you every day, love you, and bring smiles to your face as well as anyone else that is lucky enough to spend some time with her. I hope she is able to make a difference!
Take Care – Shaun”
We're immensely grateful for trainers like Shaun who have dedicated so much time and effort into teaching their service dogs in training the tasks they need to successfully serve their child partners.
Linda was happily placed with her boy, Ben, on September 2nd, 2020. Ben's previous service dog, Artie, was unexpectedly diagnosed with systemic lupus, causing him to enter retirement early. While Artie lives out his life with Ben's family, service dog Linda will be working hard to support Ben.
Ben's mother, Jennifer Trebb, announced Linda's arrival to friends on Facebook, expressing just how excited they are to have Linda in their lives:
"Some of you may know this, some of you perhaps not. Artie, Ben’s service dog, had to take a very unexpected early retirement. He was diagnosed with systemic lupus in January. Upon diagnosis, we were devastated. It has been touch and go, but he is tolerating his treatment and is a very happy guy. W.A.G.S. 4 KIDS has been a pillar of support during this process. One of the driving forces behind a service dog for Ben was to help him to gain independence with the transition from high school to college. W.A.G.S. realized that with Artie’s illness, that goal would not be met. We are humbled and very grateful to welcome LINDA into our home She is such a sweet heart and we anticipate some beautiful moments in the coming days"
After Linda was settled in, Ben's family sat down together to read the letter Shaun had wrote to them. Jennifer had this to say about Shaun's words:
"I cried like a fool. What a wonderful and special act of self less love those trainers perform."
We can't wait to watch Linda and Ben grow and learn from one another - and we're wishing Artie a happy retirement!