More than 52 million people in this country are disabled–either emotionally, mentally or physically–and most can benefit from skilled companions to assist them.
That’s where the Guardian Angels come in.
The non-profit organization, located in Williston, trains German shepherd service dogs that are utilized across the country and owner/operator/trainer Carol Borden wants people to know that they, too, can help.
The dogs, all purebred from either Germany or the Czech Republic, are trained to assist people with disabilities ranging from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to seizures to physical impairments.
“These dogs make a difference in people’s quality of life,” said Borden, who has 47 years of experience with medical service dogs.
Dogs can open doors, turn on lights and retrieve fallen objects, she said. Each dog is specially trained for the individual’s needs and it is Borden herself who screens and approves applicants.
Borden also points out that she does not train seeing eye dogs because there are specialty organizations that tackle that aspect of service dogs.
Currently at Guardian Angels, Borden and staff are training 17 dogs and in the next few years hopes to see that number increase to at least 40.
With increased animal training, she says she will be adding employees and contributing to the local economy.
However, she is quick to point out that the number of dogs trained is a tiny amount compared to the need that is ever present.
In fact, there are only about 100 breeders/trainers in the United States.
Borden hopes that she can recruit volunteers locally who are willing to help with the dogs, either through actual training or care.
Borden trains only the shepherds because they have an innate quality that makes them excellent services dogs–both by temperament and work ethic.
“They love their job,” she said of her canine charges. “They love having a job.”
Staff members and volunteers work hard, long shifts with the dogs putting them in every real-life situation imaginable.
Some are taken to airports, malls, restaurants and other public arenas where obedience is trained–and mastered.
Foster families take the dogs in to get them acclimated to family situations–and all this is done long before the dogs are ever given to their medical-need recipient.
From pre-birth to the conclusion of the training and placement, (usually it costs abut $20,000 per dog, Borden said.
Guardian Angels acquires the full cost of the training and if the recipient can contribute, it’s welcomed, but no one is refused due to an inability to pay.
The only way for the program to be successful is through donations to the 501(C)(3) corporation.
Different tiers of giving have been established.
• $30 a month pays for a dog’s vet expenses.
•$60 pays for a month of dog food for one dog.
•$75 pays for gas to transport the dogs for a week.
•$600 provides equipment for one service dog.
While almost 100 percent of donations go toward the service dogs, some monies are set aside to help with educating the public on the Americans with Disabilities Act and the roles a service dog plays in the life of a disabled person.
A service dog typically works eight to 10 years before retirement, Borden said.
“As we grow, we can help Levy County grow,” Borden said.
For more information on the Guardian Angels, visit www.MedicalServiceDogs.com or call 425-1981.