Woman training service dog

Medical Mutts Trains Shelter Dogs to Become Service Animals

Medical Mutts not only improves the lives of people who face isolation because of physical and mental conditions, but also gives discarded dogs a second chance.

The nonprofit organization trains rescue dogs to be service dogs by using research, education and positive reinforcement training. Individuals needing assistance, and their dogs, can become contributing members of society.

“Medical Mutts trains shelter dogs to become medical alert dogs who help those with hidden disabilities,” says Liz Boskovich, director of development. “No one can tell by looking that an individual has diabetes, seizures or psychological problems. Dogs can be trained to sense changes in physiology such as glucose levels, anxiety, or a seizure about to begin.”

Woman smiling next to a future service dog
Medical Mutts dog in training (photo by Ron Wise)

The organization partners with several shelters. Facilities know Medical Mutts’ criteria, and send videos of prospective dogs aged between 1 and 2 years old. Health and temperament are assessed. Of the dogs selected, only one out of three will make the cut to be trained. The others will get adopted as pets; Medical Mutts holds adoption events every second and fourth Saturday each month.

“We look for dogs that are friendly and adaptable,” says Founder Dr. Jennifer Cattet. “When they go out in public, even though they aren’t supposed to, people will come up to the dog and want to pet them. The dog needs to be comfortable with that and not anxious. We give treats in training, so a dog must be food-motivated as well. Ninety dogs a year come to us, but only 25 to 30 are chosen. Training dogs to perform is easy because most dogs can pick up an object. Chosen dogs must be comfortable and confident in public settings so they can always be keyed in on their human and alert them if needed.”

Individuals wishing to acquire a Medical Mutts service dog must go through a screening process. Considerations include what they are struggling with and whether they are able to care for a dog. Another factor is what kind of environment they live in, and if other animals are in the home.

Medical Mutts has two different training programs. Rescue dogs are trained at the facility, and then matched with an individual who comes on-site and gets instructed on how to interact with their dog. Alternatively, a person trains their own dog through online videos and in-person classes.

“It takes a year to a year and a half to match on the waiting list,” says Boskovich. “We are always looking for funding in the form of grants, sponsors and donors since it takes $35,000 to train one dog, due to the costs of finding, training and vet care. We meet as much of that cost as we can, and the client must pay $19,000. Clients often hold fundraisers to raise the money, but for some it’s just out of reach. We offer some scholarships, but we’d like to provide more.”

The organization is holding a fundraiser, Barks & Booze, on September 19 at Daniel’s Vineyard. Tickets are available on Eventbrite. Wine tasting, a behind-the-scenes tour, live music, heavy appetizers and a silent auction are included.

“We promote inclusivity and kindness by helping dogs who are lingering in a shelter and people who are isolated due to a disability,” says Boskovich. “Not many organizations help both animals and people.”



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