Service dogs help people with disabilities be more independent. For example, they guide the blind and escort those in wheelchairs.
One program based here in East Tennessee offers specialized service dog training.
Tiffany Denyer was a psychiatric nurse who moved on to pet therapy and then service dog training.
"I finished my education with service dog training out in California at Burgin University and came back and started Wilderwood because it works," Tiffany Denyer said.
Tiffany Denyer founded Wilderwood Service Dogs in 2005 with a specialized service dog focus.
"We focus on neurological disorders which kind of in laymen's terms is all those unseen disorders: autism, Asperger's, mental illnesses, Alzheimer's, dementia," Denyer said.
Dogs are trained in specific skills for specific clients.
"For instance, autism. Those who suffer from it tend to wander or run into danger because they don't process things the way we do. The dogs use a tether system to keep them safe. They can alert to night awakenings," she explained.
Another example is a dog can be trained to help those with post traumatic stress disorder. The service dog can do room checks to alleviate fear.
"The dog can offer deep pressure therapy which is actually the dog climbs completely on the individual to provide that warmth and pressure. That signals the brain to release seratonin from the deep pressure and causes reorientation and a decrease in anxiety and helps them focus," she said.
Wilderwood medical staff collaborate on each case. They start with the client's diagnosis and symptoms and then train a dog. The process takes the non-profit group an average of 18-months.
"Our out of pocket cost is around $1,200 to $1,300 per month per dog the entire time they're in the program," she said.
Most clients do fundraisers or seek sponsors and grants to cover the cost.
Basic training happens at a facility in Illinois then the dogs transfer to Maryville or Seymour for specialized advanced training.
Tiffany Denyer has seen how the human / animal connection can touch souls and make a real difference in the lives of those with neurological disorders.
An East Tennessee boy is waiting for a Wilderwood Service Dog.
Danny Lewis is 7 years old and recently diagnosed with dementia.
A fundraiser this Saturday will go toward a 'Dog for Danny.'
It's a pancake breakfast at Lenoir City Ruritan Rotary Club this Saturday morning from 8:00 to 11:00.