Volunteer Appreciation: Thank You All for Your Time and Talents

By Brenda Hawley

There is no sufficient way to thank the volunteers at Helping Paws. As a small organization with only ten employees, 8 of which are part-time, we rely heavily on our volunteers.

With varied levels of commitment, each one is equally important. From the foster home trainers who sign up to train a dog for two to three years, to the volunteer who helps out for one shift once a year at a particular event.  They ALL help complete the mission of Helping Paws!

We have over 400 volunteers at Helping Paws, and we would like to thank each one of them!

Here are a few pictures of some of our wonderful volunteers.

Interested in volunteering? We invite you to fill out an application here.


Team Training – Building the Bond

By Wendi Anderson

Welcome to day two of team training! Today we started with a lecture about how often to tip and treat to shape and reinforce the tasks we want our dogs to perform for us.

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We progressed on to learning how to groom our dogs which includes brushing teeth, getting to know the smell of our dog’s ears when they are healthy, how to trim nails, and keep the hair around the feet neat as well as the different grooming tools for keeping their fur neat and tidy.

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Helping Paws staff and volunteers adapt grooming equipment to fit each individual’s abilities.

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Grooming activities help build the bond between the members of the team.

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We had our photos taken for our ID cards which will show that we are a team.

We learned new cues: front, side, heel, in, jump up, come, behind, move, my lap, off. We had a lecture about Association ( the method by which a behavior is shaped in a positive way that the dog is motivated to continue to learn new cues) and Patterning ( a behavior that is repeated in a consistent way).

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We learned how to do T-touch (Tellington Touch) which is a form of bodywork that reduces tension and helps relieves the stress of a busy working day.


It was a full day and we are tuckered out! 9


Photo credit: Judy Michurski

Corbett and Service Dog Rocky

A Mall on a Busy Saturday? We Got This!

By Maureen Kleckner

Ever wonder what it is like to navigate a busy mall with a service dog? Foot traffic, strollers, tight aisles, and curious bystanders are all part of the challenges our graduates face. Several graduate teams showed us how it’s done this past weekend.

It’s Saturday at Southdale Mall…time for spring shopping, and the stores are vivid with color…bright yellows and pinks…and occasionally a shot of blue – the dog in the blue coat. Ten Helping Paws graduate teams are taking the Assistance Dogs International (ADI) Public Access Test today under the direction of Helping Paws staff.

The purpose of the Public Access Test is “to ensure that dogs that have public access are stable, well-behaved, and unobtrusive to the public. It is to ensure that the client has control over the dog, and the team is not a public hazard.” (ADI) Helping Paws graduate teams take this test 6 months after team training, and twice more – when the dog is 5 years old and again at 10 years of age. When the team successfully completes the test the first time, ownership of the dog is transferred from Helping Paws to the graduate.

The test begins with the team exiting their vehicle safely, and traversing the busy parking lot. Sam and Maddy pause a moment in the sunshine after leaving the van.


The team must navigate safely from the vehicle to the mall entrance, passing another dog on leash calmly.

Angie and Dozer at ADI Testing

Angie and Dozer travel the sidewalk in tandem.

The teams demonstrate several skills as a part of the test, including Sit/Stay, Drop/Stay, and retrieving. For many of the graduates, having their dogs able to retrieve dropped items in spite of multiple distractions is vital.

Stetson and Duke retrieve for their partners Ethan and Steve.

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Watson maintains a Drop/Stay for Richard. The dogs are taught early on to maintain eye contact with their human partners, as Watson is doing here.


Shelly and Cassie demonstrate Sit/Stay in the crowded open area of the mall.


The service dogs must be able to greet people, adults and children alike, in a polite fashion. It is always much appreciated by the graduates when people ask and receive permission before greeting a working dog. Volunteers play the roles of adult and child greeters.

Dozer and Rocky each allow a child to pet them.

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Safe loading back into the vehicle ends the test, as Maddy shows here.


And we’re off!

Angie and Service Dog Dozer

Angie and Dozer

Congratulations to the following teams who recently passed their ADI public access tests:

Teams with dogs at 10 years of age: Angie and Dozer; Corbett and Rocky; Sam and Maddy; Melissa and Luna

Teams with dogs at 5 years of age: Steve and Duke; Ethan and Stetson; Shelly and Cassie; Karen and Addy

First time test-takers: Richard and Watson; Andrea and Tate; Jane and Terra (demo dog team)

Smiles from Corbett and Rocky and Jane and Terra after successful completions!

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It takes a village!

By Nancy Hiebert

We often say that it takes a village to raise a service dog. One important component of that village is our fantastic community of veterinarians. Throughout their training, Helping Paws dogs require all the sorts of veterinary preventative care you might expect, including:

  • puppy well-visits, vaccinations, microchips
  • annual heartworm testing and preventative, flea and tick preventative
  • annual ophthalmology exams
  • hip evaluations to screen for hip dysplasia
  • spay or neuter

There are also, of course, various care needs that arise such as puppy diarrhea, ear infections, bee stings, ingested socks, etc.

Our foster home trainers and caretaker homes choose their own veterinarians, and we are fortunate and very grateful that these foster and caretaker homes also donate the cost of their veterinary expenses for routine veterinary procedures (puppy well visits, puppy diarrhea, ear infections, and the like). We are also very appreciative of the many wonderful veterinarians in our community who discount or donate services to these dedicated volunteers, and to our organization directly.

Each year we hold a number of clinics to provide heartworm testing, eye screening, hip evaluations, and spaying and neutering. Through the generosity of a number of veterinarians and veterinary technician students at Argosy University, as well as the generosity of our donors and supporters, we are able to provide all of these clinics at no cost to our foster home trainers and caretaker homes.

A recent addition to our on-site clinics has been our new partnership with MN SNAP (Minnesota Spay Neuter Assistance Program). Read more about MN SNAP at http://mnsnap.org/. Their expert veterinary teams bring their mobile surgery clinic right to Helping Paws, and perform spays and neuters for animals from various shelters and qualified pet owners, as well as dogs from Helping Paws. It is a partnership that is proving beneficial to both organizations in that MN SNAP can utilize the Helping Paws training center facility as a staging and recovery area, and Helping Paws receives high quality, low-cost spay and neuter surgeries for our dogs in training. The convenience of having the MN SNAP clinics right at our training center can’t be beat, and the professionalism and efficiency of the MN SNAP teams is truly impressive – all that, and great veterinary care, too!

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Occasionally a Helping Paws dog will require more extensive veterinary care, which can be quite expensive. It might be an emergency surgery for an obstruction, a surgery for hip dysplasia or a torn knee ligament, diagnostic testing for various ailments, or a visit to a veterinary specialist. For this purpose, Helping Paws created the Alpha-Gator Emergency Veterinary Fund to cover any unexpected or extraordinary veterinary expenses (for dogs in training, breeding program dogs, and graduate dogs). If you would like to contribute to the Alpha-Gator Fund, please contact Pam Anderson at 952-988-9359 ext. 12 or panderson@helpingpaws.org.

Thanks to the entire “village!” Because of you, we are able to fulfill our mission to further the independence of individuals with physical disabilities through the use of service dogs.

Playful Puppies

Throwback Thursday: Pure Cuteness

By Renée Duncan

We might be biased, but we tend to think Helping Paws dogs are pretty darn cute. Even when they are working, our Goldens and Labs never come up short on goofiness.

Below are a few exceptionally adorable and silly pup moments from recent past, in honor of “Throwback Thursday.”