When EMMA first saw Jeremy, she just knew he was the one. The pair met in a correctional facility in West Virginia. Since then, EMMA has never left his side.
"When we first met, it was an overwhelming feeling of joy," recounts Jeremy Fouts on the first time he met his assistance dog, EMMA.
"I went through several dogs before EMMA chose me. She pulled my hat off my head, because I used to wear my hat real low. She got in my face and started talking. It sounds strange, but she talks too—whenever she knows something's wrong," he added.
The U.S. war veteran served two tours in Iraq and suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), anxiety and depression. EMMA, a three-year-old golden retriever, has changed his life for the better. She is trained to know what triggers Fouts' PTS and helps lessen his symptoms.
"I don't have as many episodes as I used to like anger or frustration," Fouts said. "She just keeps me level."
Since 2008, paws4vets has been matching wounded veterans like Fouts with highly trained Assistance Dogs like EMMA.
But unlike similar assistance dog programs, the dogs working with paws4vets choose their people.
“We introduce the dogs one-on-one to the client, and we actually observe the behavior and the bonding that takes place. We let the dogs pick the clients,” said paws4people’s resource development officer, Cathy Demeroto.
Another feature unique to the paws4vets program includes creating customized training programs which are tailored to each client’s unique circumstances. The dogs are taught to recognize when their owner’s anxiety level increases, and then the owner is taught how to interact with the dog to reduce stress, panic and anxiety.
Job training for the dogs includes a rigorous six-step program. Puppies start training when they are only three days old. At the time of placement, after approximately two years of training, each dog is valued at $50,000-$60,000.
As part of their training, all dogs go through the paws4prisons program. At this stage, the dogs are matched up with inmates who are responsible 24/7 for the dogs and their Advanced Obedience and Assistance Dog Training. There are five correctional facilities across West Virginia that offer the training program. It is a great rehabilitation program for the inmates, and it raises morale in the prison.
After spending approximately one year in prison, the dogs will then choose their people at the two-day event called a bump. This is where Fouts and EMMA first met.
“It’s really very moving when you’re there. At the bump, the inmates get up to tell their story about how they ended up in prison, and how the program has helped to heal them. Often, they feel like for the first time that they are doing something positive to help others,” said Demeroto.
While there is no cost for the dogs, as part of the process veterans who have lived the benefits of having assistance dogs participate in a Pay-It-Forward (PIF) Campaign, with a goal of $10,000. This $10,000 value to the organization can be in the form of funds raised or time spent and sweat equity contributed. These funds and efforts help the next veteran get an assistance dog. TransCanada is proud to support programs that help veterans in the communities where we live, work and operate. We are proud to support a PIF campaign through paws4vets for a second consecutive year.
Paws4vets and paws4prisons are just a few of the programs offered by the paws4people foundation. The foundation’s mission is to educate and empower people to utilize Assistance Dogs to transform their lives.