Moving America Forward

These Blind, Deaf Therapy Dogs Show Special Needs Children That Anything Is Possible

February 20, 2014
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These Blind, Deaf Therapy Dogs Show Special Needs Children That Anything Is Possible
Suzanne DeChillo/Redux
Green Dogs Unleashed in Troy, Virginia, is focused on rescuing, rehabilitating and training special needs dogs to support special needs people.

It was Serendipity that inspired animal behaviorist Erika Proctor to focus her life’s work on dogs with special needs. Seven years ago, Proctor watched as a small ball of white fluff was tossed from a truck window, landing on a nearby driveway. When she walked over to see what it was, she was amazed to find a beautiful, white Great Dane puppy. “She was as white as falling snow, and as soft as silk, but she was unresponsive to sound, and had what looked to be permanently squinted eyes,” Proctor told The Huffington Post. A veterinarian advised Proctor to euthanize the animal, saying that she couldn’t live a full life and might become vicious due to her disabilities. But Proctor wasn’t about to give up on the puppy, which she named Serendipity. “This most perfect, most pure white creature was just an impressionable infant, who could learn and flourish like any other pup with the proper care and guidance,” she said.

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After successfully training Serendipity to become a therapy dog — and seeing the extraordinary effect she has on everyone she meets — Proctor realized that there are many other special needs dogs that also deserve a chance at life. So she started Green Dogs Unleashed, a tax-exempt, volunteer-run nonprofit in Troy, Virginia, dedicated to saving, rehabilitating and finding homes for these animals. Since the rescue’s inception in 2013, the group has placed around 200 dogs — some with disabilities and some without — with the goal of training them to become therapy dogs. “These are mostly animals which communities around the country have thrown away like garbage. The majority are shelter dogs, that would otherwise be deemed unadoptable and euthanized,” Proctor said. “We rescue these precious creatures from shelters, rehabilitate and train them, using their special needs as a gift, not a burden.”

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The training is quite intensive. Dogs have to successfully complete basic obedience training before going through an additional six- to eight-week program to become a therapy dog. If the dog passes their evaluation, they become part of the therapy team, visiting seniors in assisted living communities and children in schools for students with special needs. Currently, 22 dogs are in the therapy program. “The kids just light up,” Proctor told local TV station CBS19. “They see that the dog is able to overcome what’s different about them and it makes them no less of a dog and they’re able to connect with them on that level.”

To help Proctor and the other volunteers in their mission to rescue and train special needs animals, visit Green Dogs Unleashed’s GoFundMe page. Funds will be used to pay veterinary bills and assist with transportation costs of saving dogs from across the U.S. If that doesn’t sway you, just take a look at these adorable photos of the dogs they’re trying to place in permanent homes.

 ALSO: A Dog Trained by a Prisoner Helps an Autistic Boy Learn How to Hug His Mom Again

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