"Life changes when your child's doctor tells you your daughter won't walk, or use her right hand and will always need assistance for daily tasks. You begin a journey to find ways to allow your child to live as independently and normal as possible. You learn that there are barriers that you hadn't anticipated and become passionate to find solutions to remove as many obstacles as possible. PAWS Giving Independence has given our family hope for our daughter's future independence.
Since Naomi can't use her right hand, a simple task like removing her coat becomes possible with the help of Sasha, her service dog. Holding a door open to let her wheelchair pass through is also a task that Sasha is training to do for Naomi. Picking up dropped items like a cell phone, remote control, wallet or keys is probably our most used task for Sasha. The assistance is empowering for Naomi because she isn't always calling upon other people or feeling as though she is interrupting the activities of others to come to her rescue. Above all, Sasha has bridged a social gap between Naomi and non disabled people in the community and in social settings. Everywhere Naomi goes with Sasha, people are drawn to make conversation.
I didn't realize how substantial the social barrier was for our daughter until she recently started beaming about how popular she feels when Sasha is with her."
The Bradley Physical Therapy Department was instrumental in helping three Bradley students start a non-profit organization in September 2008. Michelle Kosner, Brandi Arnold and Eric Swanson came to the physical therapy department looking for help to build the philanthropic association known as Paws Giving Independence. Paws Giving Independence rescues dogs from animal shelters, trains them to become service dogs for children and adults with disabilities, and places them free of charge to the families. Their motto is "Saving a Life to Change a Life".
When Amy, a 24 year old woman with quadriplegia, received a dog, she commented that prior to this people would first see her wheelchair and now they see her dog. She notes people are always stopping to talk with her about her companion and to ask questions. She states she felt as though no one ever acknowledged or engaged her in public before this.
Since trained dogs are given to their owners free of charge, PGI is run exclusively from donations and endowments. Each dog has various expenses such as adoption fees, vaccinations, medications for heartworm, grooming, vests and patches, leashes, collars, insurance, and food. PGI is a 501 (C) (3) corporation and all donations are tax deductible.
You can learn more about Paws Giving Independence NFP or donate at their website: http://givingindependence.org/
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Michelle Kosner, Founder, Paws Giving Independence and 1st Year DPT Student
Victoria Gestner, Senior student, PR, Bradley University