Snapshots: High School Assistance Dog Program

March 1, 2000


To help troubled youth through service, teaching them to train service dogs for people with physical disabilities or for whom dogs are a part of therapy.

In a Nutshell:

The program pairs middle and high school-age at-risk youth with puppies bred to be service dogs. Teens train the dogs in more than 90 commands, such as opening and closing doors, turning on and off lights, pulling wheelchairs and retrieving dropped items. The youths provide total care and training of the dogs. After training the dogs for a year-and-a-half, the youths train the recipients of the dogs in service dog-handling techniques.

When It Began:

March 1999

Where It Happens:

Mt. Vernon, Ohio, on the
10-acre plot of land where the program directors live,
and at the Knox County Children’s Resource Center.

Who Started It:

The High Schooled Assistance Dog program (HSAD) was started in California by Dr. Bonnie Bergin, creator of the service dog concept. After a 1994-96 study by the Assistance Dog Institute in California showed a dramatic decrease in truancy and increase in self esteem among participants, the HSAD program was adopted in Florida, New Mexico and New York. Each program is run independently by people trained by Bergin.

Who Runs It:

The Golden Dogs Assistance Dog Academy, headed by former teachers Stanton Procter
and Meloni Graham-Taylor. Procter works with teens
and dogs, while Graham-Taylor handles fund-raising
and public relations.

Early Obstacle:

As with many new nonprofits,
it has been a challenge to raise enough money. Neither founders, being former school teachers, had any experience in fund-raising.

How They Overcame It:

By spending “almost our entire savings,” Procter says. “Having taught in Korea for several years, we made a tremendous amount of money. So we thought, let’s just go ahead and start.”

But “the problem has not been overcome,” says Graham-Taylor says. “[We] are still currently looking for effective ways to fund-raise on a small budget.”


The program has only been around for a year, and the exact operating cost is unclear. Procter estimates that the annual budget will be $100,000. That includes 10 dogs, full-time training staff and kennel space.

Who Pays:

Most HSAD programs receive a large
portion of their funding in fees for services from a local facility. One California program receives approximately $12,000 per month from the Sonoma County Offices of Education and Probation. The Tampa, Fla., program receives $80,000 per year from the U.S. Department of Juvenile Justice. In Ohio, the only grant has been $4,000 from the United Methodist Women’s Foundation in Manhattan. Also, people who receive dogs pay for them.

Who Else Has Kicked In:

Graham-Taylor has spoken about the program at over 300 Ohio schools, resulting in elementary schools, high schools, and college organizations each raising hundreds of dollars for the
program. This spring, she is planning two fund-raising events: a golf tournament and a 5K run. A current project is the “Pennies for Puppies Campaign,” involving college fraternities and sororities.

Kids Served:

It is currently working with seven kids but hopes to expand the program throughout the state. Among those served are adjudicated youths, chronic
truants and emotionally disturbed youths.

Kid Turn-On:

“Succeeding on an everyday basis,” says Procter, and “that immense pride that those kids can feel,” when, for example, “they teach a dog to jump up and flip a light switch.” Another high point is the graduation ceremony, when the disabled clients take their dogs. The youths “see it all come together” and are struck by what they’ve done for people.

Kid Turn-Off:

A difficult aspect for many of the youths is “having the patience to deal with a young puppy,” Procter says. “We have to be incredibly patient. The youth cannot show anger toward those puppies. The kids have to always be positive with the puppies, but puppies are puppies.”

"High school Assistance Dog Program." Snapshots. Youth Today, March 2000, p. 25.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.