Dogs Assisting People of Northwest Nevada or DAP might not be a familiar name in Churchill County, but this organization is making their name known.
“You could say DAP is relatively new,” said founder Margaret Lowndes. “I thought about starting a service dog program around seven years ago, but I wasn’t able to get it up and running until almost three years ago.”
Lowndes said she felt compelled to start DAP after losing her terminally ill granddaughter.
“My granddaughter was 15 months old when she passed away,” Lowndes said. “While my granddaughter was struggling, my German Sheppard took to her and would comfort her and they formed a really close bond. He passed away four months after my granddaughter did.”
Lowndes said from that experience she knew training services dogs was something she was meant to do … to help people. She said Churchill County is in need of an organization that is knowledgeable about how to train and intergrade service dogs into the community.
Lowndes said a service dog is a type of assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities including visual difficulties, hearing impairments, mental illness, seizures, diabetes, autism and more.
Lowndes said she offers classes for residents who would like to get their pets certified. She said the first thing individuals need to have is a prescription from a doctor stating the individual needs a service dog. She said once the residents join the program they attend meetings Wednesdays and Fridays for education and training classes.
“We’ll go over informative information that will allow the residents to better understand what a service dog is and how they work into a community,” Lowndes said. “And with training we start with the basics and work our way to the specific needs for each individual and their dog.”
Lowndes said the federal American Disability Act (ADA) and Nevada do not require certification and registration of service animals. She said her program requires all dogs to pass an obedience class, Canine Good Citizen and Public Access test. She said she also requires the dogs to learn three skills that will allow the dogs to assist their owner.
“It’s important to me the dogs are well trained and really do assist their owners who suffer from some kind of disability,” Lowndes said. “So many people use a ‘service dog title’ when it really doesn’t serve a disability just to be able to take their pet into a store or wherever they go. They’re abusing the system and getting away with it because the lack of rules, guidelines and documentation.”
Lowndes has been training a service dog for her grandson, Connor Mohrmann, who suffers with autism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. “Teddy is a 10 month old German Shepard who I’ve been training to help Connor when he feels himself about to lose control,” Lowndes said. “Teddy will be able to pick up on Connor’s mood and react appropriately to help distract and calm him down.”
Lowndes said she has been teaching Teddy three skills that will aid Connor. She said Teddy will know how to distract Connor to keep him from running, if Conner does run Teddy will follow Connor until he calms down and Teddy will distract Connor before he becomes angry.
Lowndes said Teddy should finish all of his certifications by the summer.
“I’m hoping once Teddy has completed his certifications he will be able to accompany Connor to school,” Lowndes said. “A big reason why I’m doing this is to get service dogs into the school so students who need them, like Connor, can have that service dog who knows how to support their needs. It’s important to have service dogs accepted in schools, business and community.”