By John Showalter
Everyone knows that dogs are often referred to as “man’s best friend.” It’s no mystery why. During their millennia-long relationship with humans they have served as loyal pets, companions, guides, and more. As the only accredited nonprofit provider of service dogs in North Dakota, Service Dogs for America serves as an important part of this history-spanning friendship.
Originally named Great Plains Assistance Dogs Foundation, Inc., Service Dogs for America was founded in 1989 by Ed Duden, Steve Powers, and Michael Goehring. Even though the name has changed, the organization is still based in the same location where they began, the small town of Jud, North Dakota, about 43 miles south of Jamestown. Their current executive director is Jenny BrodKorb.
“SDA dogs come from a variety of places,” said BrodKorb. “Several come from a non-profit organization, Project 2 Heal in Waxhaw, North Carolina, that purpose-breeds Labrador Retrievers for service dog organizations. Some dogs are also donated by responsible breeders in the area and others may come from rescue organizations, if they have the right temperament and health for service dog work. All dogs are thoroughly tested for health and temperament throughout their time at SDA.”
The dogs trained by SDA get their start early, generally around 12 weeks of age. They are all trained at the organization’s campus in Jud, in three Inmate Canine Assistance Programs (ICAP) at James River Correctional Center, North Dakota State Penitentiary, and the Missouri River Correctional Center, and foster homes. They start their training in one of the ICAP programs, where they learn basic commands, manners, and housebreaking. From there, they return to the campus in Jud to work with their trainers, who all utilize positive reinforcement in their training methods.
When someone is applying for a service dog from SDA, they have to fill out a preliminary application which can be found on their website. The purpose of these applications is to ensure that SDA has trained a dog that fits the needs of the applicant. If a dog does meet those requirements, the person is sent a full application that includes full medical information and references, which are evaluated by SDA’s medical review board. “The process is thorough, but helps to determine if a service dog is the correct solution for the individual,” said BrodKorb.
“Service dogs are not assigned to human clients, but rather our dogs ‘pick their human,” said BrodKorb. “This means when a client is approved through our medical review board and comes to Jud for their team training, they are introduced to several dogs trained to assist with their disability. We watch the dogs closely for indicators that they have a connection with the client prior to pairing the team. This allows for a strong bond and partnership.”
There are several different ways that people can support the organization. On their website, they have links for financial donations and to their Amazon wish list. Also, on the first Saturdays of October and May they have their volunteer days, where people are invited out to have a day of food, fun, and work, to prepare for the upcoming season. Apart from that, there is also Giving Hearts Day which occurs every February.
Recently SDA hosted a site tour for U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND), who is part of the Senate Veterans’ Affair Committee. He was invited to the campus following work on the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veteran’s Therapy Act, his bipartisan legislation to expand access to service dogs for veterans. The bill was introduced in March and signed into law in August. “He toured our facility, met our dogs, and saw demonstrations of their skills,” said BrodKorb.
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