Founded in 2004, Working Animals Giving Service for Kids (W.A.G.S. 4 Kids) is dedicated to providing mobility and autism service dogs for children throughout northeast and central Ohio utilizing an award-winning Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) accredited Cell Dog Training Program.
Wendy Nelson Crann, an animal trainer, and Ed Crann, a former special education teacher, developed the idea of training service animals to specifically meet the special needs of children in 2004, when there were no similar programs. It is an organization founded and built in northeast Ohio for the children in our own backyard. The needs of local children – both then and now – continue to drive the growth of the organization.
W.A.G.S. 4 Kids is driven by the belief in early intervention and is dedicated to working with a family and child as early as there is a need and interest. Since our first placement in 2005, we have placed over 60 Service Dogs. As the only 501(c)(3) organization in Ohio that exclusively provides service dogs for children up to the age of 18, we provide niche services to families with nowhere else to go in seeking an animal that is custom-suited to their child’s needs. Our focus on training our dogs to best assist each individual child’s needs ensures an immediate impact on their quality of life. Though our intention is to always enhance the wellness of a child, we often cannot quantify the effects our services have on the confidence, independence and empowerment of a child’s future. W.A.G.S. 4 Kids presents an opportunity for a child we see spending their life having things done to them and for them, to reach out physically, emotionally and engage with the world around them.
Our very first placement was with Myles from Strongsville, a four-year-old boy living with Cerebral Palsy and paralysis of his left side. Myles was non-verbal since birth and communicated with simple Sign Language. W.A.G.S. dog AJ was partnered with Myles, and in the final phases of AJ’s training trainers worked exclusively with hand signs so that Myles would be able to communicate with AJ using his right hand. After the placement, Myles began to speak. His first word was not “Mommy” or “Daddy,” as parents hope to hear. Rather, Myles’ first word was “Come,” because he wanted to talk to his Service Dog, AJ. Since that time, when posting photos of children we serve alongside the dogs we’ve placed with them, we use the phrase “let the magic begin” because that’s the reality of what these dogs can do and be in the lives of children with disabilities. Beyond Myles, we have time and again seen the sense of autonomy service dogs can restore.
In 2007, W.A.G.S. began its partnership with ODRC in our award-winning accredited apprenticeship Service Dog Training Program. Today the program is housed in two different facilities – Grafton Correctional Institution in Grafton, Ohio, and Mansfield Correctional Institution in Mansfield, Ohio. With this program, the men that become inmate trainers are guided by the professional training staff of W.A.G.S. 4 Kids and those men work hard to change their own lives, prepare to re-enter society and learn what it means to make the dreams of children possible.
Each service dog we train costs $28,000. During the training process, W.A.G.S. 4 Kids covers the cost of all food, housing, veterinary care, supplies and countless hours of professional training that go into preparing a Service Dog for placement with a child. Each partner family commits to fundraise $9,000 of that cost, and W.A.G.S. commits to cover the additional $19,000. We receive no government funding and are entirely dependent on the generosity of a very strong support network of our community and it’s leaders. Programs are funded entirely through in-kind donations, the support of grants, sponsorship, and proceeds from hosted events
What makes the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids program unique is the personal commitment to the families we serve. We provide in-home transition training and ongoing placement training and support. This “best practices” service is kept possible as all placements are in the northeast and central Ohio area – geographically, our communities are your communities.
Our enduring goal is to secure what is the future for W.A.G.S 4 Kids. The lesson is the importance of our being here in Northeast Ohio for the families that will call next year and in five years. Our focus on early intervention and tailor-training our animals to their new companions allow us to uniquely fill the needs of those we serve. Geographically, our communities are your communities. Our model of continued support before and after animal placement makes us local and keeps us local. Organizationally, we are proud to work with talented trainers, an engaged Board of Directors, and a tireless administrative support staff who wholeheartedly believe in our ability to impact the lives of children with disabilities. In addition to the children that we serve, we are inspired to work with trainers currently incarcerated at Grafton and Mansfield Correctional Institutions. We are proud of the services we provide and are always striving to reach more families. Our goal is to place more dogs with the children that need them, and it is with your support there will be more to come.