June 22, 2018
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UMaine Machias program to work with disabled to train service dogs

Tom Walsh | BDN
Tom Walsh | BDN
Kathy Hecht, who uses a service dog to accommodate her degenerative back problems, has receved a grant to help other disabled people to train their dogs to help them cope with their disabilities.
By Cait Smith, Special to the BDN

MACHIAS, Maine — A grant from the Maine Community Foundation will bankroll efforts to allow area disabled people to train their canine pets to be service dogs.

The University of Maine at Machias hosted an on-campus informational meeting on service dog training on Friday, March 29, and will hold another Thursday, April 18. The meeting will be held 4-5:30 p.m. in Science Room 102.

Kathy Hecht and Lois-Ann Kuntz, who are both faculty members in the university’s Arts & Letters Department, applied for a $7,500 grant from the Maine Community Foundation and UMaine Machias was awarded $6,500 more for a total of $14,000. Some of the additional funding will be used to help qualifying individuals who don’t already own a dog find one to train, Hecht said. Because finding dogs to train is more complicated than training one already acquainted with its owner, program organizers are limiting the number of participants they will help to find dogs.

Hecht said the list of tasks that service dogs can be trained to perform is extensive. Common types of service dogs include dogs that help the visually impaired, hearing-ear dogs, mobility/wheelchair assist dogs, medical-alert dogs, allergy-alert dogs, dogs to help people with autism and dementia, and psychiatric-service dogs.

“A big dog can be trained to help pull someone in a wheelchair through tall grass, “ Hecht said. “Or a dog can be trained to bark when it smells an allergen.”

At the two informational meetings Hecht will accept applications to evaluate people who already have dogs and will share information on the training, which is expected to begin in May. She will schedule meetings for people who do not already have a dog.

“Having a service dog can be so freeing for people with disabilities,” Hecht said, “but

it’s a lot of work. In addition to the training this summer, the handler will need to keep

training the dog to keep their skills up.”

Hecht said the Americans With Disabilities Act requirements for service dogs were revised in 2011 to require that the animals be trained in at least two tasks that assist their owners. That requirement is different than regulations for therapy dogs, which are specifically trained to help a variety of people rather than one individual and don’t have the same public access as service dogs.

For information, call Hecht at 207-323-4460.

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