Helping Paws remembers people and dogs who have touched our lives

By Eileen Bohn

 “It is not length of life, but depth of life.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lucinda and Libby

Lucinda and Libby

Graduate Lucinda Teasley passed away on August 26, 2015. Lucinda and Libby, her service dog, were true partners and were often seen together in their NE Minneapolis neighborhood. Libby brightened Lucinda’s days and Lucinda brightened our days. Lucinda was fondly remembered by friends in a memorial get together on Boom Island, one of Lucinda’s favorite places.

Terry McKnight

Terry McKnight

Terry McKnight Cook, who was partnered with Yuki as her service dog, passed away on September 16, 2015. A conversation with Terry was always an interesting and fun conversation as Terry had an inquisitive mind. Terry was just one of those people who was “delightful” to be around and she is missed by family, friends and her Helping Paws friends.

Jodi and Copper

Jodi and Copper

Helping Paws graduate Jodi Nelson passed away peacefully at her home on January 7, 2016. Jodi had been involved with Helping Paws as both a graduate and enthusiastic volunteer for more than 20 years. Jodi lived life to the fullest. During team training classes, Jodi was a mentor and a cheerleader to her classmates. We are blessed that we knew her. She is now reunited with her service dogs Maggie May and Juni, who definitely showered her with kisses.


Jazz, Chad Wood’s service dog, passed away in July, 2015. Jazz was gentle, fun-loving, goofy at times, a buddy with Chad and Kristine’s cat and Chad’s faithful service dog who went with him to work daily. Jazz traveled many places around the country with Chad and Christine. In addition to being missed by Chad Wood and Christine Fossum, she is also missed by her foster home trainers, Louise & Jon Speck.



Tanna was Deb Vikander’s service dog who passed away in July, 2015. Tanna was sweet, affectionate, and sometimes a bit pushy when she didn’t want to let Deb knit or when she would wake Deb up very early, like 4:30 am. Deb used her for stability when walking, lots of retrieving, and for safety when alone. Missing Tanna are Deb and her son, Adam Vikander, and Tanna’s foster home trainers: Carrie & Jim Heyerdahl and the Darleen & David Lindgren family.



Recently retired as Tara Wirtjes service dog, Rue passed away in October, 2015. Rue was Tara’s second service dog and she was spunky and fun-loving. Tara taught her tricks to keep Rue busy but she was also a lifesaver for Tara. For example, Rue retrieved the keys numerous times when Tara dropped them on the floor in her van. As she aged, Rue grew afraid of thunderstorms. During a storm, she managed to open the apartment door and the building door and found her way to a neighbor’s garage where she spent the night on a couch. The neighbor was quite surprised to find Tara in the garage and we were all incredibly relieved to find her after searching for her. Rue had breakfast at the neighbor’s while waiting for us to pick her up. Rue is missed by Tara, her foster home trainer, Jane EckesEtzel and many family members and friends.



Emma, Mary Weinand’s beloved service dog, passed away in October, 2015 after enjoying a brief retirement with her foster home trainer family, the Steve & Judy Michurski family. Emma enriched Mary’s life as her service dog. Quoting from Mary: “She was there to cuddle in bed with me when the day ended…and she enriched all the minutes in between.  Every outing was easier with Emma at my side. Her help with tasks and emotional support were never taken for granted.  Never.  Every day I still look to pet her, say her name, and miss her so much even I can’t find words to express it. I lost a best friend. Dog lovers understand.” 

Lynne and Lulu

Lynne and Lulu

Lulu, Lynn Dorr’s service dog, passed away in December, 2015. We sometimes are struck by the “unfairness” of life. Lulu developed significant health issues shortly after she was placed as Lynn’s service dog. Unfortunately, Lulu also was hit with lymphoma this fall. Lynn gave Lulu the very BEST care and love and we thank Lynn for being Lulu’s person. Lulu was the sweetest of dogs and we send our condolences to Lynn, her family and friends and to Liz & Joe Gadbois, Lulu’s foster home trainers.



Mandie, Gina Lytle’s retired service dog, passed away in December, 2015. Mandie was a beautiful dog and she was precious to Gina, to the family who adopted her on her retirement, and to her foster home trainer family of Deb DeMeester & Paul Schalekamp.



We lost Charlie, Tyler Olson’s service dog in December, 2015. Here is what Tyler posted on Facebook about Charlie: “My buddy passed this morning. Thanks everyone for your continued prayers and thoughts! The best thing about Charlie was his love. He not only shared it with me, but with anyone who met him. I’m heartbroken, but glad he’s at peace! Not sure where I’d be in life if I didn’t have My Charlie through my best and worst days after my injury. Time to grieve, but also celebrate the life of the BEST DOG EVER!” Since Charlie and Tyler are such diehard Vikings fans, Tyler bought a Legacy Brick in Charlie’s memory. It’ll be placed outside the new Vikings stadium! Charlie is missed by Tyler, Tyler’s family, hundreds of Charlie fans and friends and his foster home trainer family, Judy & Steve Michurski family.



Holly, a Helping Paws career change dog, passed away in October, 2015. She hit the jackpot on her career change as she got to live on a farm. She loved to play with sticks, chase the horses, and snuggle with her pal, Steve. She is missed by Steve Crownover and her foster home trainers Pete Markham & Carina Rew.

Angie and Dozer

Angie and Dozer

In January, 2016, we said goodbye to Angie Jesme’s service dog, Dozer. Dozer, a sweet, soft dog was perfect for Angie. Dozer was with Angie as she married Mike, moved to a new home, and took public transportation to Angie’s work in downtown Minneapolis every day. Angie works downtown for Gray Plant Mooty law firm and Dozer was adored by all of the lawyers in the firm. He had special walkers and an “I want to be a Dozer walker” waiting list. We always called Dozer the “George Clooney” of the Golden Retrievers, he was a good looking dog! Dozer is deeply missed by Angie and Mike Jesme, family, friends and his foster home trainers, Marie & Dave Heikkila.

People and dogs, we miss you all—you enrich our lives. Thanks for the memories.

A little cold weather can’t stop Helping Paws dogs from a demo!

Helping Paws had the pleasure of performing three demonstrations at the Land o’Lakes Kennel Club Dog Show January 8, 9, and 10, 2016. Many thanks to our foster home trainers and graduate teams who braved the frigid conditions to participate!

Helping Paws breeds Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, and places them with volunteer foster home trainers when the puppies are seven weeks of age. We are very grateful to the many breeders in the community who support our mission by donating stud services for our breeding program. The Land o’Lakes Kennel Club Dog Show allows many of these breeders to connect with the offspring of their dogs.

We took this demonstration opportunity to showcase our training process. Our foster home trainers raise and train the dogs for the full two to two-and-a-half years that it takes for the dogs to become service dogs. They attend classes weekly, and train the dogs at home and in public.

Our first phase of the curriculum is called Perfect Puppy. The pups are well-socialized to promote confidence in many environments and circumstances. We use the process of clicker-training, marking and rewarding each skill, or succession of skill, with the clicker followed by a food reward.

A key skill is taught during this phase is Watch – the dog must learn to always look to the human for direction and cues. Below are Sally with Eddie (5 1/2 -month-old Lab) and Karen with Delores (7-month-old Lab). Even in this chaotic venue these pups are focused.

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We add distractions, such as holding food treats out to the side, to prefect the Watch. Here is Sally doing that with Eddie.



The next phase of training is Awesome Adolescent. The dog begins to learn “service dog skills,” such as retrieving, turning lights on and off, and pulling gloves off – Tug.

IMG_2254Karen and Delores demonstrate Tug with a glove.

Below, Karen and Delores show how we “shape” pushing the toggle switch. Karen clicks and treats for Delores looking at the switch, and then touching the switch with her nose.

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  IMG_2274Eddie, meanwhile, is glued to the action.

The third portion of the training, Working Wonder, was well-represented by Ranae and Brooks. Brooks at 1 and 1/2 years of age is actually further along in the curriculum, but graciously agreed to demo Working Wonder skills. Here he is, getting focused:


A significant piece of retrieving items involves the dog getting close enough to the person so the individual can reach the object. In the photo below, Brooks brings the item closer to Ranae by adding My Lap to the skill set. This is important for our graduates with physical disabilities, may of whom cannot bend over to take an object from the dog.


Helping Paws teaches “affection” skills to our dogs in training. Here Brooks shows My Lap combined with Snuggle, getting close to Ranae so she can feel his touch on her face without bending over.


For our demo, we combined the final phase of training, Big Dog, with our community outreach program of demo dogs. Demo dogs have completed all phases of training, and have passed the public access test required of all of our graduate teams. For various reasons, including health issues such as allergies, these dogs are not placed as service dogs. Volunteers adopt these dogs and help educate the public on service dogs and about Helping Paws.

Big Dog skills include Brace (Jane and Tori) and Rise to turn on and off lights (Lu and Belle).

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In addition to placing service dogs with individuals with physical disabilities, Helping Paws also partners service dogs with military veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Below, Big Dog Summit with Cathy and demo dogs Tori with Jane and Belle with Lu demonstrate Forward, a cue that tells the dog to stand close to its partner, facing forward. This provides two benefits to the veteran – a barrier between the individual and other people, and physical contact with the dog, which is comforting and confidence-building for the vet.

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We are always honored to have graduates participate in our demos. They are our mission in action. Ethan and Stetson graduated from team training in September of 2012. Since then, Ethan has begun driving his own van, and returned to farming, all with Stetson at his side. Remember Awesome Adolescent, where we showed you Karen and Delores shaping Tug with a glove? Here is why we teach this…Stetson tugging off Ethan’s coat.

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We were also grateful for Melissa and Winnie’s participation in the demo. Winnie is Melissa’s second service dog; they were matched and completed team training in October of 2014. Melissa has a busy life style, including walks along the river and dining in restaurants. Winnie is eagerly there for every outing.


Many thanks to our foster home trainers and graduates for participating in the demos, and to Land o’Lakes Kennel Club for  inviting us!

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Photos courtesy of Scott Kleckner with the exception of the group photo, courtesy of Peter Grottini.

What I Didn’t Know

Today’s post is written by Dana Engstrom, foster home trainer for Atticus. Atticus was recently partnered with a military veteran to mitigate the symptoms of PTSD.

There is a photo of us, the Niko/Kol fosters, that was taken on a sunny afternoon in May of 2013. We are smiling broadly, delighted to meet the chunky puppies that have just been placed in our arms. For the next two years, they’re ours. I see myself, wearing a long white shirt with a funky necklace and freshly polished red fingernails, and I remember that I was happy, excited, and hopeful.

The picture, however, tells a different, more expansive story today, because now when I look at it, it tells the story of what I did NOT know at all back then.

I didn’t know that I had just embarked on a grand, memorable, life altering adventure.

I didn’t know that in a few hours our tiny pup, tucked cozily into his crate for the night, would feel the absence of his siblings so profoundly that he would repeatedly throw his head back and release high, lonesome howls. I didn’t know that even noise cancelling ear protection guaranteed to eliminate the reverberations of the loudest lawn mower wouldn’t make a dent in the decibel level of my mournful new roommate’s cries.

I didn’t know that in the coming months I would rarely wear nail polish or jewelry again, unless a clicker on a hair binder is considered a bracelet.

And I didn’t know that I certainly wouldn’t be wearing anything white, black, draped, dangled, buttoned, trimmed, skirted, shoe-laced, or elegant. My fashion choices would be limited to items crafted of thick and durable denim — including, but not limited to pants, shirts, and underwear!

I didn’t know that I would soon sit for hours watching a DVD tutorial again and again in slow motion, trying to figure out how the heck a gentle leader is supposed to work.

I didn’t know how much toilet paper is on a roll until I saw it unfurled, thanks to a certain pup.

I didn’t know about the wonders of Bitter Apple Spray and Nature’s Miracle, or that they would become my favorite extracts, more valuable than the rarest, most precious nectar of any god!

I didn’t know that though Atticus was a mere tot, he was an interior decorating prodigy who was partial to minimalism and shabby chic. He showed us that pillows, chair cushions, blankets, books, tablecloths, knick knacks, and rubber tips on door stops are nothing more than clutter; and that porch screens poked with a few holes and throw rugs with pieces of yarn yanked out lend a casual, carefree charm to any space.

I didn’t know that my eyes would rarely behold the summer 2013 sky above, because they would be cast perpetually downward scouting out stones, sticks, acorns, and leaves.

I didn’t know that I would remove 2,384 stones, sticks, acorns, leaves and other unidentified but reprehensible objects from Atticus’ puppy mouth.

I didn’t know that I would feel more naked, vulnerable, and panicked about forgetting my bait bag at home than I would had I forgotten to wear any clothes!

I didn’t know that I wouldn’t need a gym membership anymore, because a cheerful but untiringly persistent fitness trainer had moved in. Through his personalized regimen of walks, romps, and general leaping around, I would lose over 15 pounds.

I didn’t know that as Atticus and I trekked around Northfield, I would see my community with new and more appreciative eyes. I would be inspired to write a poem about our town including a line that is a nod to Atticus. I would enter it in the annual Sidewalk Poetry Contest and win. The poem, now engraved on one of the sidewalks Atticus has strolled down hundreds of times, is an enduring tribute to him.

I didn’t know that Atticus would become a celebrity, even to a few real-life celebrities. Mark Rosen would approach us, and we’d have a long discussion about service dogs and Helping Paws. Alix Kendall from Fox 9 Morning News would see us at Lake Harriet and ask me (ME!!?!) for advice on training her dog.

I didn’t know how many really, truly kind people there are in the world, or that I would soon be meeting throngs of them. They would smile, wave, stop their cars beside the street or in a parking lot to say how beautiful my dog was, ask to take Atticus’ picture, compliment his behavior, tell me about Goldens they’ve loved, share their hearts with me, thank me for training a service dog, buy me a smoothie or gooey dessert in appreciation, bring Atticus a bowl of water, or offer discounted veterinary care. They would dog sit for Helping Paws (and thus for Atticus), allowing me to meet even more generous people, including my mentor and friend Jeanne Jones, trainer of Buffy and now Brogan.

I didn’t know how many people habitually bend over backwards to be accommodating, supportive, welcoming, and understanding and expect nothing in return.

I didn’t know how much I would laugh at the antics of an enthusiastic Golden in training like when he would run dramatically in response to “Get the blanket” and return with it breathlessly as if my life depended on it; or as he tried so hard to restrain himself to just a single slurpy “kiss;” or when he sat down smack dab on top of me after I slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk which caused me to laugh so hard that I couldn’t budge him off or get myself up and passersby thought I was gravely injured and that my dog was signaling for help.

I didn’t know how often I’d marvel at the Helping Paws staff’s ability to willingly, knowingly pair a puppy with a foster (both parties often unschooled in dog training, by the way) and gently grow them into a team exuding focus, confidence, and skill.

I didn’t know that I would sometimes cry — in sorrow for a world that needs service dogs; in admiration of the graduates’ courage and tenacity; and in gratitude for what Atticus and the Helping Paws dogs have brought to my life and the lives of others.

I didn’t know that my friends, neighbors, and family would fall in love with Atticus and participate in his training, open their homes to him, follow his skill acquisitions with interest, and cheer for his successes.

I didn’t know they’d weep when the time came to bid him farewell.

I didn’t know the tiny furballs we held in our arms that afternoon would grow supersized bodies to match their huge puppy feet, but that they would also grow supersized loyalty, supersized tenderness, supersized hearts.

I didn’t know that you, the people surrounding me in that picture, would become friends who also surrounded me for over two years of training. I was inexperienced and uncertain when we started out, and quite honestly, there were days when I felt like quitting. Then I would think of each of you — working fulltime jobs and leading busy, demanding lives but still putting your all into training your dogs. With admiration and renewed determination to imitate your examples, I’d hit it again. You have been my comrades, my cheerleaders, and my inspirations.

I didn’t know that we would be asked collectively a million times, “How will you give them up?”

I didn’t know how often we would talk about the question, share responses we tried out, and speculate about the actual day.

I didn’t know how fast that day would come, how little time would pass before it would be our turn to learn the answer to that abiding, elusive question.

I thought when it was time for Atticus to move to his forever home I’d be ready to get ours back in order with the help of some stiff sandpaper and a good paint brush, but I didn’t know I’d want to linger awhile first. Scratches on the wood floors are the imprints of a buddy who greeted Ken and me with unmeasured exuberance. Fur strands stuck to the bottoms of the kitchen chair legs represent “unders” and “drop stays” that were hard won and mastered. Slobber streaks on the car windows mark the travels of a dog on an important journey. Dings on the deck are the notes of a joyous tune about a windy spring day and grandchildren blowing bubbles and a sweet Golden leaping up to pop them. Sheetrock scuffs around the electrical switches reflect a dog learning one of the many ways he will bring light into darkness.

I didn’t know the depth of pride I’d feel as we send our dogs on their way to lead the lives they were born to live. Congratulations, love, and traveling mercies to you, Nadia, Miko, Macy, Knut, Copper, and Atticus. I am so glad to have known you. Thank you for taking me on a grand and memorable adventure. I will think of you and those in your forever homes often. Nadia, you will be a wonderful therapy dog, and I’m so happy you’ll be around to give me some therapy when I need a Niko litter fix.

Congratulations on a job more than well done, Chris, John, Dawn, Brian, Kirsten, Tom, Renee, and Kirk. I’m glad to have met you, too, and I will think of you often as I reflect on our experiences together. I wish you joy and traveling mercies on your way to new endeavors. Thanks for all you do to make the world a bright, hopeful place, and thanks for walking alongside me on an unforgettable journey.

Dana Engstrom























Thank you for your service.

Veterans Day is a public holiday that is dedicated to honoring anyone who has served in the United States military. The holiday began as a day to remember the end of World War I and was declared a holiday by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919. Originally known as Armistice Day, the holiday became Veterans Day in 1954. Veterans Day 2015 is Wednesday, November 11.

“Furthering people’s independence and quality of life through the use of Assistance dogs” is Helping Paws’ mission. To date, we have partnered seven veterans with service dogs, to help these men and women ease the challenges of living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Richard Greelis, one of our foster home trainers, wrote the following piece and kindly granted us permission to post on the blog.

To our veterans everywhere, thank you for your service.

Vets shouldn’t need a reason to use a service dog

Someone using a service dog, whether it’s working or in training, deserves our respect.

While there will always be those who abuse benefits of any kind, service dogs have come under the microscope lately. It’s important to understand the way the program works.

Some questions I’ve heard: “Who are all these people walking around perfectly fine with these dogs that have blue service dog ‘packs’ or vests on them?” “Are they really disabled, or do they just like having their pet with them in public places and found this loophole?” “Aren’t they supposed to be in a wheelchair or something?”

You’re not alone if you’re asking yourself these questions, but please consider something before you ask the young (or old) person with the service dog why the animal is by their side.

People who need service dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and not all of them use wheelchairs. Our country has no shortage of soldiers returning from wars fought on foreign soil who bear both visible and invisible wounds. The invisible scar, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a real thing. Though it didn’t always bear this name, it has always been a real thing. Soldiers suffering from PTSD after World War I and World War II were called victims of “shell shock.” The Vietnam era saw PTSD for what it was and began treating vets, but the stigma of having this invisible affliction while some of their squad mates had made the ultimate sacrifice often kept sufferers from seeking treatment.

As a result of education and public awareness, post-Vietnam veterans began seeking help more often. That being said, vets suffering PTSD who never seek help probably still outnumber those who do.

With this in mind, try to imagine a soldier first seeking help for an affliction that makes it nearly terrifying to leave home, terrifying to be in a crowd, terrifying to be exposed to loud noises, terrifying to be among strangers. He or she may have had to endure immense fear, not to mention embarrassment, just to find someone who can help with treatment.

Now imagine having this condition and hearing about a program that could allow you to re-enter society, maybe walk down a street again with confidence, and go to work, to a movie, to church and, in the process, to gain a nonjudgmental constant companion that would love them unconditionally and help them with their nightmares.

Sound too good to be true? Unfortunately, it turns out it probably is for now. Why? Because veterans with service dogs are not really accepted as truly “needing” them yet. The program is too novel. Seeing an apparently “normal” man or woman walking a service dog into a public place is just too much, too intriguing, too anomalous for some people to handle. If that seemingly normal man or woman can bring a dog to the mall, why can’t I? I think I’m going to ask what the problem is. This attitude is the killer of the service dog program for victims of PTSD. Veterans suffering PTSD are loath to explain to every curious rude-nick why they need a service dog. It is frightening, painful and embarrassing — enough so that it might turn them away from the new life of independence a service dog could offer them.

Something else to consider when spotting a service dog in public: They don’t get to be nearly perfect canine citizens by practicing their skills in a vacuum. They have to experience inclusion in as many busy, loud, frenetic public settings as possible, so that when they are paired with their disabled partner, they are prepared for whatever environment their disabled partner will lead them into.

So that young (or old) person walking the vested canine through the Mall of America may be a foster trainer preparing a dog for a life of service — and that dog may not have perfect manners — yet. Please respect the stitching on the dog’s vest that asks you not to pet it while it’s working. That goes for all service dogs.

I come from the ranks of the most cynical creatures walking the planet — the police. Police officers learn by necessity to question the motives of everyone they come in contact with, not necessarily to their face, but internally. This is the resulting amalgam of years of having nearly everyone they have contact with lie to them. Having lived that experience, I know that it’s natural to question the motives of those who seem out of place or seem to be cheating the system. But this is an instance where we, as a community that admires, respects and honors our veterans, need to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Veterans made an enormous sacrifice and paid an enormous price to be walking that service dog into a public place. Please don’t ask them why they have a service dog. Please don’t ask what’s wrong with them. Please don’t tell them you don’t allow dogs in your establishment — because if it’s open to the public, you do allow service dogs and you legally may not ask them what’s wrong with them.

And finally, please don’t give them that look. Consider the sacrifice they made and go a step beyond mere adherence to the law. Welcome them into your establishment. Compliment them on their beautiful companion.

And maybe offer this silent prayer: “There but by the grace of God go I.”

Richard Greelis, of Bloomington, is a retired law enforcement officer, teacher and author.

‘Tis the gift

” ‘Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free,
’tis the gift to come down
where we ought to be,
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’twill be in the valley of love and delight.”

Our team trainees are coming along nicely! Bonds are growing stronger, and patterns are being established which will guide these new graduate service dog teams throughout their partnerships.

The individuals receiving these dogs had the opportunity to meet the foster home trainers who have brought the dogs to this point. This is always a special occurrence during team training. The recipients hear stories of puppyhood antics, and the foster home trainers see the relationship between dog and soon-to-be-graduate growing.

Midway through the three-week team training course, the dogs move in with their new partners. Exciting and stressful at the same time for everyone! We are happy to report that all teams are doing very well. Among them, the dogs have met family members, human and canine alike; gone to movie theaters and grocery stories; one has even befriended the family goat.

The foster home trainers have the option of “handing over the leash” to the individuals receiving their dogs. A special, poignant moment for all.

To our foster home trainers, you have given a gift like no other. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

To our soon-to-be graduate teams, welcome to, or, in the case of our successors, back to, the world of having a service dog. It will be epic.

Photos courtesy of Judy Michurski.

Song lyrics: Shaker dancing song, Joseph Brackett (1797-1882).