Service Dog Graduation Changes Lives


By Amanda Wade

It is the last day of summer for many students, but for some furry friends in Montgomery it is graduation day.

14 service dogs graduated with the K-9s for Kids program. K-9s for Kids is a non-profit, statewide organization that trains service dogs for special needs children and war veterans.
Matthew Irsik is 14 years old. He got his service dog, Hazel, about two months ago to help with his autism. He says he has not been to school with Hazel yet, but on the last day of summer, he is hopeful for the best year yet, "Before Hazel I was bullied a lot in school. I haven't gone to school with Hazel yet, but I'm sure it will be better."
His mom, Ginger Henry, adds, "It's changed it a lot. Matthew is much more confident and happier, more outgoing, and makes friends. This weekend made a friend and had a sleep over and it was his first sleep over. So great things, I'm just very excited about our future."
Hazel is one of 14 dogs that graduated from the K-9s for Kids and Heroes Service Dog Program. The Alabama-based organization rescues dogs from shelters and trains them with the help of female prisoners. Ashley Talor, the co-founder and head trainer for the program, says this is third graduation for the service dog program, and it is the biggest one yet, "These dogs have an average of 40 to 60 commands. They are trained for diabetic and seizure alert, wheel chair assistance, panic intervention."
Program founders say it costs nearly $23,000 to train a service dog. K-9s for Kids provides the dogs free of charge to the families. 
The program has saved 70 dogs from shelters. The dogs that do not make it through service dog training are placed in homes where a therapeutic pet could help a child that has meltdowns, but does not qualify for a service dog. 
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