Group of 4 Paws OSU handlers and sitters. Photo courtesy of facebook.com/4pawsosu

Sandhya Arya, Senior at OSU and current president of 4 Paws began looking for opportunities to work with training dogs during her junior year at OSU, something she has been considering as a career for quite some time. She came across the national program that is 4 Paws for Ability, Sandhya had learned from the Ohio State University Program Coordinator that a club for 4 Paws was being started at OSU. She contacted the president and it was that way that she received her first dog, Demeter, in the summer of 2015.

4 Paws for Ability is a national non-profit organization founded out of Ohio in 1998, that aims to enrich the lives of children and veterans by providing service dogs to assist them in life.

Sandhya Arya, current president of 4 Paws at OSU, describes what she loves about being able to work with 4 Paws for Ability, “Through 4 Paws for Ability at Ohio State, you are able to indirectly change the lives of families who have hit dead ends on every other path,” Arya said. “You may not be intimately involved with the families, but you are helping to bring about this incredible change in their lives.”

The Beginning of the National Organization

After working with service dogs in her own community in 1998, Karen Shirk, the originator of the 4 Paws national organization, realized that most agencies would not provide service animals to children or people with unusual needs in terms of their disability. She decided to create a website, dedicated to providing service dogs to patients of all ages, but most importantly, to children with unusual needs. 4 Paws looks at each case separately, and decides how a service dog could improve someone’s life. They make it a point to not discriminate based on the uniqueness of disability.

Several years after the beginning of this vision, the organization purchased its first facility in Xenia, Ohio. Since then, they have moved down the street to a bigger facility, previously the VFW building, where they operate out of today.

A 4 Paws OSU service dog being trained to open the doors using the handicap accessibility switch. Photo courtesy of facebook.com/4pawsosu

The national organization has been very successful since its founding. Even though the focus is still on children, 4 Paws for Ability began placing service dogs with veterans who had lost limbs or use of their hearing, etc. 4 Paws for ability is proud to provide help to those who fought for our right of the very independence that they desire.

4 Paws at OSU

Ohio State has had the great opportunity to be a part of this organization, and has grown as well as the national organization. According to Sandhya, the organization had only 7 foster dogs at its beginning during the summer of 2015, and now in the Fall of 2017, they foster over 37 dogs, with more than 150 handlers and sitters., The aim of OSU 4 Paws is to get these dogs used to socialization and people, before they go to someone with a disability that needs assistance. They prepare dogs to help people and children with autism assistance, hearing assistance, seizure assistance, diabetic alerts, and more.

“I remember learning Bubblie, the dog I helped puppy sit for 9 months was placed with a boy. I remember feeling a rush of pride.”

When one joins the organization at Ohio State, it will probably start them out as a general member, attending meetings, fundraisers and paying dues, which are fairly cheap. 4 Paws will also be involved in educating others about service dog etiquette which Sandhya has described as, “desperately needed,” because of the numerous service pups that walk our campus. If the fit is right, you can apply to be a sitter, and you will be trained to handle/sit the dogs. One would then have some opportunity to graduate to handler. Handlers take the dog everywhere, including the store and even class, and the sitters take them when the handler is not available. Sandhya said that even though the sitters aren’t the main handlers of the dogs, they still play a great role in taking the dogs to events and watching them when the handler is too busy.

Member Kaishin Lin recalled a dog that she helped raise as a sitter, “I remember learning Bubblie, the dog I helped puppy sit for 9 months was placed with a boy. I remember feeling a rush of pride. I had helped grow Bubblie into the best service dog she could be and now she lives happily with her family in Texas, where she was placed with her new family, making her boy’s life better!”

When asked about the patients, and the changes she sees take place, president Arya said that the people 4 Paws for Ability works with aren’t called ‘patients,’ they’re called, family. When people come to 4 Paws to get a service dog, it is usually their last-ditch effort to provide their children with the care they need. After working with 4 Paws, Sandhya Arya says, “Parents are able to sleep easier through the night. Kids become more confident. The 4 Paws magic truly is just that — magic.”

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