Life at DHG Podcast Series

Episode 44: DHG IMPACT – Partnering with paws4people

We recently welcomed a new four-legged team member to our DHG family! She’s a golden retriever puppy named Dewey who is currently learning to be an assistance dog with paws4people. We are proud to be a sponsor and supporter of paws4people and their work to train and place dogs like Dewey and her fellow trainees with children, veterans, military dependents and civilians who are living with disabilities. Kyria Henry, CEO of paws4people, joins us in this podcast to talk about the great work that the organization is doing and what’s on Dewey’s training schedule for the next few years.


Episode 44 Transcript:

AGH: Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our DHG Podcast Series. I’m Alice Grey Harrison your host and I love this venue because we get to hear about the things that matter the most to us; flexibility, careers and people. Our life beyond numbers.

We recently welcomed a new four-legged team member. Yeah, that’s right, four legs. Her name is Dewey and she’s a precious golden retriever puppy. We were so excited when the litter of puppies were born and we were told that our puppy was here- we had a gender reveal party in one of our offices, you can check it out on Facebook, because of course, we videoed it.

We had a naming contest and our employees and partners at DHG actually selected the name Dewey. Dewey’s an honorary team member. She doesn’t actually spend time in our office, but she’s currently enrolled in paws4people to learn how to be an assistance dog. We are proud to be a supporter and sponsor of paws4people. Paws4people trains and places dogs with children, veterans, military dependents and civilians who are living with disabilities.

At DHG, we couldn’t think of a greater way to honor our military veterans and people with disabilities than to sponsor our service dog. We searched high and low to find the right organization to work with and we couldn’t be more proud than to have this partnership with paws4people.

Today, I have Kyria Henry, the CEO who is joining us to share more about the great work that paws4people does and help us understand exactly what Dewey is going to be doing for the next several years.

Welcome Kyria.

KH: Hey, how are you?

AGH: Great, it’s so wonderful to have you with us. Your story has been so inspiring to me. I read it online and I mentioned this to you before we started recording and truly I’ve thought about it several times.

Can you share the story of how paws4people came to be with our audience?

KH: Sure. So, as the story goes, it’s a long time ago now but I was 12 years old at the time in 1999. I had successfully begged and pleaded for my first dog and my parents really followed through with forcing me to really take care of it, be the primary caretaker, go to training classes and learn how to make a good dog.

My first dog was Riley. He was almost as big as me at the time. I decided that I had done all this training with him and I just really wanted to take him places where he could bring joy to people and so we started by visiting some nursing homes. We found that there wasn’t a great amount of support in our area for us to volunteer through an organization.

So really, my father, who is the visionary and the entrepreneur, thought that we could create our own system and recruit community members and have training standards and insurance and that’s how it all got started. It was really just grass roots, visiting special education classrooms and nursing homes to bring joy to people through dogs. That continued as I went off to college, West Virginia University as an undergraduate and took my dog with me and was using her for therapy work in the community and I was approached by an office at the university to meet with a local federal prison facility administrator who is opening a new female prison facility and that was kind of the next turn that we took because we took a leap of faith and started a prison training program and that allowed us to start training these highly customized assistance dogs for people with disabilities that we do now.

That’s kind of how I grew into it.

AGH: I think that’s so amazing. I mean, what 12 year old has a vision and is able to see it through. I won’t even imagine what I was thinking when I was 12. It’s certainly wasn’t anything nearly as amazing as this.

We are celebrating Veteran’s Day in November, so can you tell us a story — I think it’s interesting that veterans have come into the mix for paws4people. Tell us how it came to be that veterans are people that received the assistance dogs and is there a great example of a success story that you can share?

KH: Yes. My father, whom I mentioned before Terry, he is our Deputy Executive Director. This has been really a partnership between us which is adding another layer of blessing to my life that this is also a family endeavor and he is a veteran. I grew up, kind of unknowingly, but I was a child growing up in an environment affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.

As we started training these dogs and using them to help other people, it was actually a method of recovery and rehabilitation for my dad, as an unintended positive consequence. One of the first service dogs that we trained ended up staying with him. So through experience we have developed some proprietary ways of training these dogs and applying them to post traumatic stress.

It was really a natural development for us and I remember one of the first veterans that we placed a dog with – he was actually in inpatient psychiatric treatment care, still active duty in the military. We worked with his treatment teams as they develop the care plan for him and he bonded to and really attached to one of our dogs and we trained that dog for him. We were involved in the training process and we collaborated with his mental healthcare professionals to do that.

Fast forward many years later, he has a wife, a family, has gone back to college, is a school teacher and really a huge success story of what it means to reintegrate and find new purpose in life and that has set the precedent for how we work with our client’s treatment team. This is always part of their other treatment plan and continuity of care. So we really go above and beyond, it’s not just the dogs that we do.

AGH: That is a great story and an amazing work that goes on. So, you mentioned you know, the dog integrating in the care plan, and you mentioned, you know, how the dog serendipitously ended up being therapy for your dad. What is in store for Dewey to get her to the point that she can be an assistance dog?

KH: Well, as you might imagine, it is a pretty long and rigorous process for our dogs. But what’s great is, because we start when they’re puppies, they really don’t know any differently. So Dewey right now is in puppy development, which is a dedicated program that we have that focuses on their socialization and sensory development. So they go out in the community on about 12 outings per week. They go everywhere from retail establishments to child care facilities, fire stations, restaurants, so that they’re seeing and hearing and smelling and experiencing the world as puppies, that’s really important for their success later on.

Then, she will go into our prison training program, like I spoke about earlier, and our inmate trainers are the ones, they live with the dogs 24/7, 365 and they teach the dogs about 120 commands that the dogs need to know. So that’s like them going to high school. That’s kind of what I compare it to. They’re going to learn everything.

Then in the prison, when they’re about a year old, our clients, who have been accepted, come to the prison and “bump” with dogs, which has been describe as like speed dating. Each client takes a turn and we’ve identified adolescent dogs who have strengths that are matched with what the clients need and we rotate the dogs through one by one and over a few rounds, it becomes very apparent which dog is connecting with which person and their temperaments and their personalities and their energy.

Then we will move the dogs down to Wilmington, North Carolina back to our headquarters, and they will integrate into our program that we have at the University of the North Carolina Wilmington here and our college students take the dogs for public access training. So that means they’re going, again, just like when they were puppies, everywhere in the community to really establish the skills that the inmates learned and transfer them.

It’s like the dogs are going to college, literally and figuratively and at that time, we’ll reintegrate those clients that they “bumped” with. We customize the training for that person because we think customization is very important. When we identify that a client is ready to test and take custody of the dog and take it home, it’s always an individual process that is different for every person. But they take a test and they go home and they have to come back and see us and re-certify every single year that the dog is in service. So we can maintain quality control and a close relationship for their whole career.

AGH: Wow. So that sounds really intensive. It really is like high school and college. I know you’re nonprofit.  I imagine this would be really costly. How much does it cost to get a dog ready?

KH: There is no charge to the recipient, the recipients participate in helping us raise awareness and paying it forward so that we continue to grow and help more people. But, to the organization, the time spent for that approximately two years of training on the dog and care. The dogs are valued at about $60,000 at the time of placement.

AGH: Wow, that is amazing. That’s a lot of money. I mean, it’s almost like college. The work you do is so inspiring. I know that people listening have been thinking like, “Wow, I want to get involved, I want to help, either through volunteering or given financially.” How do people go about helping?

KH: We would love for people to visit our website, it is paws4people.org and there, we have spent an enormous amount of time making sure that there’s extensive information available. There are videos, client stories and then there are also ways that people can find out all the different ways that they can help us through supply drive and puppy showers, sending supplies that we need for the puppies, donating in honor of a client or of a dog, what events we have coming up nationwide that they might want to help with or participate in, and also, a volunteer applications so that if they do live somewhere near where we might need some assistance they could apply to volunteer as well.

AGH: Very cool. Well, I appreciate your time today and again, we at DHG are honored to be a sponsor and to watch Dewey go through this process, thank you.

KH: Thank you so much. We’re so grateful for the partnership and we are looking forward to sharing her journey with you over these next couple of years.

AGH: Awesome, and thank you all for listening to Life At DHG, our premier podcast series. If you like what you just heard, we hope you’ll tell your friends and colleagues. Be sure to check out our DHG blog for more great stories about our life beyond numbers. Join us next time for another edition of life at DHG.