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Homeless animals 'give back'

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Abandoned and unwanted dogs currently being housed at the Bandera County Animal Shelter may soon find permanent homes - and chances to serve their communities.
On Thursday, Oct. 22, County Attorney Janna Lindig asked commissioners to approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a nonprofit group, enabling suitable dogs at the county animal shelter to be trained as service dogs.
Accompanied by Community Liaison for Animal Control Sandra Schott, Lindig requested that the court allow trainers with Shepherds for Lost Sheep, Inc. to evaluate and train dogs previously impounded by animal control deputies. Once trained, the dogs would be adopted by military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) and other psychological disorders, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and mobility problems.
Dogs for Shepherds
According to Lindig, Schott, who is also responsible for developing programs to assist placing animals, had contacted Shepherds regarding county dogs' possible inclusion in their program. Although inaugurated in Washington State, the program now has a second base of operations in Vanderpool.
"Their focus would be selecting larger dogs that are difficult for us to adopt out," Lindig told the court. "We have no problem finding homes for puppies and smaller dogs, but nobody seems to want larger dogs."
Lindig asked that Shepherds' certified trainers, Lawrence "Larry" and Catherine "Cathie" Griffith and Heather Fall, be allowed access to the shelter twice a week for an hour each day to train selected dogs prior to placing them in foster homes. After the dogs have been placed with veterans, the trainers will continue to work with them. Dogs selected for the program would have to remain in the shelter for a maximum of three months and would not be put up for regular adoption or euthanized except in the case of aggression.
Helping rescued dogs
"The trainers have been with the Shepherds' program for four years," Lindig explained, adding that they would sign a waiver of liability attached to the MOU. As a matter of course, anyone visiting the shelter on Highway 173 North is required to sign the same waiver. Lindig said that Schott would remain at the shelter with the trainers during the training sessions. The trainers also agreed to work with shelter dogs that were not included in the service dog program.
Additionally, fees would be waived for any military veteran who adopts a dog through the Shepherds program; however, the Shepherds might pay the county a reduced adoption fee of $25.
Intrigued by the service dog that accompanied Larry Griffith to court, Precinct 2 Commissioners Bobby Harris asked, "Was he a rescue dog?" The dog, incidentally, stood automatically during the Pledge of Allegiance and invocation.
"Yes," Griffith replied, "he was rescued from the Humane Society of Spokane, Washington, when he was 8 weeks old." He added, "Eighty five percent of the dogs we train are rescue dogs."
Reasons why not
Reluctant to increase the county's liability, Judge Richard Evans brought up possible exposure of potential service dogs to others being held in quarantine. He also felt the shelter wasn't set up as a training facility.
Disagreeing with his assessment, Lindig said the careful design of the facility allowed no interaction between regular holds and dogs in the quarantine area. "We have very few dogs in quarantine as it is," she said, adding, "The shelter's outdoor exercise area would be a perfect place to hold training sessions." Lindig said that the training would be unlikely to take the entire three months.
Cathie Griffith told the court it would take multiple visits to the county shelter to ascertain a dog's true personality and temperament. "The first time we work with a dog it's highly likely the dog will not behave," she said.
Griffith also noted that Shepherds hopes in the future to establish a network of local training facilities in the area.
Sheriff Daniel "Dan" Butts objected to allowing the 90-day training to take place at the county shelter. "When we sign the agreement, we commit to 90 days of paying for food and veterinarian expenses. We cannot adopt the dogs out." He preferred that Shepherds take the dogs out of the facility for training elsewhere. "If they don't work out, they can bring the dogs back," Butts added. He also noted that Schott's other duties might be neglected since she would be with the dog trainers twice a week.
Not a perfect world
Schott has always spent time socializing the shelter dogs to facilitate their adoptability as pointed out by Precinct 1 Commissioner Bob Grimes, who said, "The animal control liaison already works with the dogs at the shelter."
As Schott added, "In a perfect world, this group would have a training facility, but this isn't a perfect world. And Shepherds is offering a wonderful chance for our shelter dogs."
Butts also expressed reservations about allowing Shepherds to "conduct their business" on county property. However, local nonprofits have had a long history of staging their various activities and fundraisers on county property.
"We have a facility that is not being used," Lindig said. "Shepherds will provide a community service to disabled veterans and make good use of the facility at the same time."
Noting that the group has not acquired nonprofit status through the Office of the Texas Secretary of State, she said their use of the county facility would, of course, be contingent upon Shepherds receiving the nonprofit status. Shepherds is registered as a nonprofit in the State of Washington.
Costly service dogs
Lindig also noted that the trainers with Shepherds have assisted with the county's monthly dog adoptions, held the first Saturday of each month at the Fire Station on Main Street in Bandera. The next adoption date is set for Saturday, Nov. 7, from 10 am to 3 pm.
Pat Godkin, founder of A Dog 4 You rescue organization, told the court that this type of training is common in shelters across Texas. "After receiving basic training, the dogs are given to veterans in need," she said. "Service dogs typically cost $15,000 to $20,000 and most vets can't afford those fees."
The Griffiths have a constantly rotating pack of service dogs in-training at their home. "As dogs are placed, it opens it up to bring (county) dogs in," he told the court. He also said he has applications for three foster homes.
When discussions ended the court voted 4-1 to allow Shepherds to select and train dogs at the Bandera County Animal Shelter, contingent upon the organization receiving nonprofit certification in Texas. Evans cast the lone "nay" vote.
In a later interview, Harris said, "If this program stops one veteran from committing suicide, it will have been worth it. Dogs are powerful things."
First placement
On Saturday, Nov. 1, Brody became the first homeless dog at the shelter to be placed through the Shepherds for Lost Sheep programs for veterans Program. He was impounded on Sept. 23, after animal control picked him up roaming on Highway 16 North.
Schott described the mastiff mix as "a lot of dog" that came in with no manners, training or leash skills.
"Amazingly Brody instantly responded to Shepherds' trainers, Heather Fall, and Larry and Cathie Griffith, who worked with him only a few times over the last month," Schott. "The group paired Brody with Joseph McNamara, a veteran living in Roswell, New Mexico, who needed a service dog to help him cope with his PTSD."
Schott continued, "Joseph jumped in his car to claim Brody as his own. You can see it was love at first sight for both of them."
More information about the group is available at www.shepherdsforlostsheepinc.org.