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  • Meet Handi-Dogs, one of many groups ECAP contributions support

    [Editor's Note: For the next few months, eScoop will highlight a nonprofit as an example of a class of nonprofits that benefit from annual employee ECAP contributions, as well as several nonprofit organizations that directly support County programs, operations or missions.]

    Graduation Day - a time to reflect on a job well-done, experience gained and knowledge applied; a time to express gratitude, feel relief and get a belly rub.

    Wait, what? handi

    Belly rubs, ear scratches and maybe a crunchy treat are part of the pomp and circumstance during graduations at Handi-Dogs, one of more than 200 non-profit organizations, including a dozen animal welfare or training groups, that receive financial support from Pima County staff through the Employees Combined Appeal Program (ECAP).

    Handi-Dogs helps seniors and people with disabilities train their own dogs to be their service, therapy or well-mannered companion animals.

    ECAP contributions assist more than a dozen non-profit animal welfare or training agencies:

    Animal Crusaders
    P.O. Box 31586, Tucson, AZ 85751

    Arizona Greyhound Rescue

    8987 E. Tanque Verde Rd. PMB 309/153, Tucson, AZ 85749

    Foundation for Animals In Risk (FAIR)
    2527 W. Violet Ave, Tucson, AZ 85705

    Friends of PACC
    PO Box 85370
    Tucson, AZ 85754-5370

    Handi-Dogs, Inc.
    75 S. Montego Dr., Tucson, AZ 85710

    Hermitage No-Kill Cat Shelter
    4501 E. 22nd St., Tucson, AZ 85711

    Humane Society of Southern Arizona
    3450 N. Kelvin Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85716

    Ironwood Pig Sanctuary

    P.O. Box 35490, Tucson, AZ 85740
    www. ironwoodpigs.org

    Pawsitively Cats
    1145 N, Woodland Ave., Tucson, AZ 85712

    Pima Animal Care Center
    4000 N Silverbell Rd, Tucson, AZ 85745

    Saving Animals From Euthanasia
    3661 N Campbell Ave. PMB 220, Tucson, AZ 85719

    Southern Arizona Beagle Rescue
    P.O. Box 43715 Tucson, AZ 85733

    Top Dog, Inc.
    9420 E. Golf Links Rd. #1108-355, Tucson, AZ 85730

    Tucson Wildlife Center
    P.O. Box 18320, Tucson, AZ 85731

    President and CEO JoAnn Turnbull explained the agency customizes its service dog training program for each client’s unique physical, psychological and situational needs, everything from hearing impairments and mobility issues to PTSD.

    “We don’t teach them 60 standard cues. We teach them how to train the dog to help them with specific tasks that they need," Turnbeull said. "One of the benefits of teaching a person how to train their own dog is, if their disability progresses or changes over time, they often have the skills then to teach the dog additional tasks.”

    Handi-Dogs GraduatationThe training process usually takes about a year to 18 months with weekly training sessions and daily homework. Maintaining the skills they develop requires lifelong practice.

    “We’re not only teaching the dog tasks to help their person’s needs but we’re also teaching good manners for public access,” Turnbull said. “For instance, if it’s going into a store like Costco during prime time, the dog has to have the confidence to walk alongside the shopping cart and not be disturbed by all that noise and commotion and then if their person needs them to do the task, the dog still has the ability to do that.”

    Among this class of graduates are Christina Dzodzomenyo and Luna, the first pair to complete the “Rescue to Service” program, which identifies shelter dogs that have the ability to become service animals and matches them with individuals with disabilities who want to adopt and train them. Handi-Dogs trainers found Luna at Pima Animal Care Center’s main shelter.

    “Luna and I just knew - sparks flew. It was love at first sight,” Dzodzomenyo said. “She does everything with me. She travels with me, goes to work with me. She’s my support system, physically and emotionally and also because I don’t have children or nieces or nephews. So she’s it for me. She’s my family. She challenges me. She challenges me to be a better person; to understand her and let loose a little bit more.”

    Christina Dzodzomenyo and LunaLetting loose includes road trips, visits to the dog park and regular Saturday dance-offs, most often to Michael Jackson albums. Dzodzomenyo claims Luna has a particular fondness for the King of Pop’s 1983 hit “Thriller.”

    Not every dog makes the grade. Turnbull estimates fewer than 20 percent of dogs can pass muster as service dogs.

    “The dog has to want to work. It has to have the ability to learn. And it has to have the confidence to be able to handle varied social situations.”

    During last year’s ECAP campaign, 14 County staffers contributed $2,123 to Handi-Dogs, either through one-time donations or payroll deductions - a nearly three-fold increase from the previous year.

    It costs about $4,000 for Handi-Dogs to help a client train their service dog, a bargain compared to the $20,000 or more at other schools accredited by Assistance Dogs International, dog training’s premier professional organization. Student fees make up than one-third of Handi-Dogs expenses with donations making up the difference.

    Handi-Dogs Graduate“Handi-Dogs provides us with an amazing support system,” Dzodzomenyo said “You are not just abandoned. Even after certification they told me, emphatically, ‘We’re still here. Call us when things are tough.’ My trainers still check up on me. It’s not just an organization, it really is a family.”

    In all the 2017-2018 ECAP campaign raised $296,533, a 16 percent drop from the year before. Still, every little bit helps animal welfare groups accomplish their missions, families become financially stable, seniors remain healthy and active and supports education programs that prepare youth for school, work and life. One hundred percent of every ECAP donation goes to the organizations selected. Also, ECAP donations also are tax-deductible. No amount is too small.

    For more information about how to donate, participate or to join the ECAP Committee, contact ECAP Committee Chair, Barbara Denny, 520-724-7400 or Chair-Elect Ray Velez, 520-724-4489.

    Nonprofits to be featured in eScoop over the coming months include: Friends of the Pima County Library, Friends of PACC, Parklands Foundation, Interfaith Community Services, and nonprofits representing the following areas: Health, Youth, Literacy, Housing, Hunger, and Family Support. 
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