April 2017 Around Town 2

A Best Friend to Have

….is a best friend in need. Saint Francis Service Dogs of the Roanoke Valley are just that—highly trained service dogs assisting people with disabilities in the community and surrounding areas.

For two decades, Saint Francis Service Dogs has provided people with disabilities immense amounts of joy, laughter, dignity and freedom—all delivered directly to their hearts from four well-trained paws.

Saint Francis Service Dogs make it possible for those with disabilities to exceed their own expectations. Many recipients of the service are able to live independently—students can leave home to pursue college and individuals can join or return to the workforce. Parents and caregivers are assured knowing they have help from a great dog. Service dogs alleviate pain, raise self-esteem and ease anxiety, all while providing fresh joy into people’s lives.

Presently, Saint Francis supports over 60 service dog teams working throughout Virginia and portions of North Carolina and West Virginia. In addition, Saint Francis places an additional 10 to 15 dogs per year. Partnering with the Virginia Department of Corrections at the Bland Correctional Center, Saint Francis works with inmates to house and train puppies. The partnership enables Saint Francis to maintain up to 50 dogs in different stages of training. The Roanoke County facility is the hub of all activity and houses up to 24 dogs for advanced training.

Service dogs are trained to go for help when in need, assist when one falls, open doors, retrieve the phone, bring adaptive equipment and carry items. This remarkable training also allows the dogs to assist children who have autism. Exceptional training allows the service dog to help prevent potential anxiety by interrupting stemming behaviors. They are trained to participate in therapies designed to teach interpersonal skills and increase social interaction.

Saint Francis also assists in educating their qualified recipients in continued training and care of the service dog. For 20 years, Saint Francis has provided quality service for adults and children with disabilities. The long waiting list depicts the overwhelming need for their service.

Saint Francis operates without state or federal funding or insurance reimbursements. The organization is solely dependent on donations to make service dogs a reality for those in need. This service would not be possible without the support of the community. As Saint Francis celebrates its 20th anniversary as an internationally recognized program, let’s celebrate a job well done and help continue a service that helps and brings tremendous joy.

To learn more about Saint Francis Service Dogs, visit SaintFrancisDogs.org.