The case was tragic: The witness to a murder was the victim’s own little boy. Understandably, the child was in shock, barely able to tell the story that would bring justice for his mother. But he had help from a graduate of Duo, an organization that trains dogs to assist their human companions with all kinds of special needs.
“This dog was able to break down that boy’s barrier of fear,” says Peggy Musen, executive director of Duo. “He was comforted by the dog, and he was able to tell his story.” In fact, whenever a child in the St. Louis, Missouri area — where Duo is based — needs to testify in court, a Duo dog is available to offer comfort to the small witness on the stand.
This kind of work is not unusual in a Duo dog’s life.
Wonderful Programs Help With a Variety of Needs
The dogs that go through Duo’s intensive training program graduate with skills to perform a variety of tasks specific to people’s needs. Duo dogs can be trained to help children and adults who are hearing-impaired or who have other disabilities, visit patients in cancer treatment centers, hospitals and hospices, and even help children with their reading.
“Our Paws for Reading program is for children who have reading difficulties,” Peggy explains. “In a library setting, they read to one of our dogs. The dog doesn’t challenge or laugh at or correct them, so the children want to read more. Their reading skills show measurable improvement, all by having the dog in the room with them. The kids who don’t have reading problems get a little jealous — they want to read to the dog too!”
Duo’s Touch Therapy program provides a welcome relief from a stressful situation. “Touch dogs go to facilities, like the court system and hospitals,” says Peggy. “We had one child who was getting a prosthetic leg, and his mother called and said, ‘He won’t try to walk with the new leg unless Cookie is there.’ We brought the dog in, and that boy took his first steps with the prosthetic leg while holding Cookie’s leash.”
PetSmart Charities Grant Helps Keep Duo Running
Duo was founded in 1987 by Sandy Maze, a woman who had a service dog of her own. From small beginnings, Duo is now a charitable foundation with over 700 volunteers helping to train dogs.
“Donations and grants from companies like PetSmart Charities means we don’t have to charge people for the dogs,” says Peggy. Duo has placed dogs with people nationwide and even one in the United Kingdom.
“PetSmart Charities had been working with Children’s Hospital through our Touch Program and funded a large grant to keep that program going,” says Peggy. “Because of PetSmart Charities’ support, we can train more dogs for Touch and Paws For Reading.
“Our mission is creating extraordinary bonds between people and dogs. The PetSmart Charities grant and other donations help us keep doing that.”
When hospital patients face difficult treatments, when children and veterans in the court system need a friend, when a hearing-impaired person needs a nudge from a cold nose to let them know a smoke alarm is beeping, a Duo dog can be there for them.
“We’ve trained dogs to open doors, help make a bed, pay cashiers, open refrigerators, help clients get dressed, and more,” says Peggy. “Duo dogs break down barriers to life.”