The designation “Pilot Project” covers the initial stage of development of Helping Paws from the beginning of our activities in May 2000 and to the end of August 2001. In this period we learned to train dogs, translated information sources and materials and established our own system of client preparation and care. We evaluated and organized the specifics of training assistance dogs in the Czech Republic using western standards enhanced by feedback from our first clients. At the same time, we have established Helping Paws as a non-profit organization. Pilot Project was closed in August 2001 with the graduation ceremony for our first four assistance teams and one canine therapy team.
By completing Pilot Project we have proven that it is possible to successfully train dogs in our country and we have gained the necessary information for further development of our resources. The next step (undoubtedly much more difficult) will be fundraising. We need to ensure a reliable financial resource so that we can select puppies for puppy raising and further training – knowing that we will have money for their food, veterinary care and training in future. This financial source could be the state, but more likely will be private sponsors or a public fundraising campaign. At the end of the Pilot Program we have two puppies in raising and two more dogs in training. So – help us keep going!
Our first “prototype” dog was Golden Retriever Loyza. The Tomasus have trained Loyza, their breeding dog, to perform many tasks typical for the needs of disabled people. We will not give Loyza to any client, of course, but we hope he will become the father of many equally talented puppies.
Our first client – Mrs. Jitka Travnickova from Kladno received Lord – a black Labrador retriever. Today, Lord helps her pick up toys of Mrs. Travnickova’s three-year-old son. Lord also “shops” for her – he runs up the stairs into their local shop with a grocery list and wallet in his little backpacks. The shop assistant sends Lord back down with the groceries. The first person to recognize Lord’s impact on Jitka’s life was her husband, who said: “I can help her with the difficult things, it’s the hundreds of small things that wear me out – Lord does it all now!”
Golden Retriever female Indiana takes care of three children this way. Their father and Indiana’s master, Mr. Daniel Hottmar from Kladno, now doesn’t have to ask them to pick up things he drops on the floor. He doesn’t ask his wife to turn on the lights or bring him the mobile phone. Just like Lord, Indiana also learned all the typical tasks for helping her wheelchair bound partner. Indiana’s most special task though is counseling – she follows Mr. Hottmar, who is Methodist preacher, to work with his congregation.
Ten-year-old Misa Kutac from Valasske Mezirici suffers muscle atrophy and is literally bound to his wheelchair – strapped in. His truly enormous helpmate – Golden Retriever Barney has learned several special tasks such as returning Misa’s hand to the wheelchair control panel when it slips off and putting Misa’s head back into proper position when it falls forward due to muscle failure. In such cases Misa could even suffocate, so it is no exaggeration to say Barney can save his life. As a “side effect” Misa gained 3 kilos in weight since receiving Barney – unprecedented success and a turnaround in his relentless weight loss. Barney also turned out to be an excellent “heating unit” for correcting Misa’s irregular body temperature. “We are heating together!” Misa calls it. Misa’s mother reports that since Barney has come into his life, there is a sense of joy and physical improvement he’s never known before. We knew this from the beginning – when Misa and Barney first met, it was such a joy that Misa exclaimed: “This is better then Christmas!”
Another Golden Retriever, Ezro, helps Mrs. Zdena Vojcikova with household chores. On top of the regular commands, Ezro knows how to open the washing machine and pull the laundry out into a basket. He also likes picking up apples in the garden. Ezro was our first dog to complete the public access test immediately after the initial weeklong training with the client. And he passed the test with all A’s. He even ignored a plate of food we placed in front of him in a restaurant! “It is the true sense of independence and returned self-esteem” Mrs. Vojcikova wrote us about her first secret trips out with Ezro, after 6 years of depending on family and friends. Then one day her husband came home and Ezro victoriously welcomed him with a bag of cookies Mrs. Vojcikova bought on their “trip to the shop” – the secret was over. “It may seem like a small foolish thing, but it means so much to me,” she said.
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