Wanted: Helping paws

Volunteer Cheryl Williams, of the Village of Dunedin, is training 1-year-old Hockey with New Horizons Service Dogs.

Dogs might be man’s best friend, but they are also our best helpers. 

New Horizons Service Dogs is a nonprofit organization that trains dogs to become service dogs to help people with disabilities. 

Cheryl Williams, president of the Dynamic Dogs Club and a volunteer with New Horizons Service Dogs, owns a golden retriever named Rollins who was trained to be a service dog and later became a therapy dog.

“Rollins was OK with some tasks, but he was not the right fit for a service dog,” Williams said. “He till is a wonderful animal so I trained him to become a therapy dog.”

Therapy dogs are different from service dogs, because they do not perform specific tasks.

President Kathleen Miner said service dogs at New Horizons learn more than 80 commands and can perform difficult tasks like pressing elevator buttons or picking up credit cards from the floor. 

Williams said the biggest resource the group needs besides fosters is money.

“It costs a few thousand dollars for each dog,” Williams said.

Williams said further expenses like food for the dogs and vet bills makes costs more expensive.

“We are always in need of donations,” Miner said. “We have expenses for the training as well as breeding programs, vet check ups, travel for the dogs.”

The dogs don’t always stay with the same foster family, and once they are raised for about a year and a half, Miner said the dogs return to New Horizons.

“We give them all the training here to ensure they can complete every task required of them,” Miner said. “And once they are certified we start the process of pairing them up with the right person.”

Service dog recipients are partnered to make sure it’s a good partnership. 

Miner said the personality of both the human and the dog are taken into consideration.

“It’s serious to us,” she said. 

Recipients also go through training and have to perform commands in public before they get their service dog.

Williams said the program is rigorous because no one wants to have to return a service dog because of the wrong fit.

“It is such a long process to get a service dog,” she said. “That is why I volunteer with them and encourage people to support them.”

New Horizons Service Dogs was started by Janet Severt. Severt is a quadriplegic and uses a service dog herself.

Severt said there are currently more than 100 people on the waiting list for a service dog from New Horizons, which adds up to a year of waiting.

The main thing standing in the way is funding.

“It costs between $45,000 and $50,000 to breed, raise and train a service dog,” she said. “That funding doesn’t come quickly, so the dogs don’t get placed quickly.”

The Villages Homeowners Advocates Foundation Committee recently donated $2,500 to New Horizons Service Dogs to go towards placing a service dog with someone in need in The Villages.

“We like helping people in the community,” said chairperson Peggy Fiore. “This is a really great cause to support and we hope it makes a difference for someone’s life.”

To donate to New Horizons Service Dogs visit its website at newhorizonsservicedogs.org or call 386-456-0408.

Senior writer Maddie Cutler can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5386, or maddie.cutler@thevillagesmedia.com.