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ABC Grad’s Nonprofit Trains Shelter Dogs to Help Vets with Disabilities


November 8, 2019

Press release: Animal Behavior College

For Sharon Callan, finding out she had stage 3 colon cancer and only a 30 percent chance of survival was life changing. She started a support group for cancer patients and their spouses and volunteered at local animal shelters. It was while working with homeless dogs that Sharon decided to learn more about dog training and enrolled in Animal Behavior College’s (ABC) Dog Obedience Program to improve her skills. She graduated in 2011 as a certified Animal Behavior College Dog Trainer (ABCDT). She then used her newly acquired skills to train the dogs of local veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Sharon immediately noticed that the loyal canines had a calming effect on their owners, provided emotional support and improved the quality of their lives.

“After hearing my diagnosis, I was scared and prayed to God to live longer so I could help animals,” Sharon recalled. “Watching the special bond between veterans and their dogs inspired me. These dogs gave them reasons to get up in the morning and go outside. For many of us, these actions are second nature. For these veterans, they are major achievements.”

In 2015, Sharon co-founded Shelter Dogs for Veterans, a nonprofit located in Talking Rock, Georgia that helps veterans deal with the aftereffects of injuries sustained while on active duty by providing them with service dogs. Sharon volunteers at local shelters in her area and conducts assessments to find canines that have the personality to be service dogs. She and her team match each dog to a veteran applicant and train them to address specific needs such as turning on lights, opening doors and handling different social situations. To date, Shelter Dogs For Veterans has trained 34 service and therapy dogs combined.

Sharon also volunteers for Pets For Vets and holds additional credentials. She’s a therapy dog trainer and member of Therapy Dogs Inc., an instructor and evaluator for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers Canine Life and Social Skills Program, a Canine Good Citizen evaluator, a Train a Dog Save a Warrior (TADSAW) trainer and a member of the Wounded Warrior Program.

“I train shelter dogs for service dogs, which is a win-win for both. The VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) doesn’t provide service dogs for PTSD because they believe there’s not enough information that proves service dogs help veterans with this disorder,” Sharon said. “I strongly disagree. Based on what I’ve witnessed, the service dogs do help. They help a lot.”

One of Sharon’s most memorable rescues was a shelter dog named Taylor. While assessing the young dog, she noticed a long scar on his back in what appeared to be third-degree burns. Taylor scored high on his assessment for service dog training. Sharon knew she had to find a home for him right away and posted his photo and information on her Pet Finder account. She immediately received a request from a veteran.

“I was thrilled!” she said. “The veteran has PTSD. He said, ‘I am broken, and Taylor is broken; we are going to fix each other’. I felt many emotions and just cried. They are truly a match made in heaven.”

Sharon was diagnosed with PTSD in 2018 after a car accident. She believes her disability has made her even more empathetic to the veterans she helps and a better dog trainer.

“They [veterans] have unselfishly sacrificed so much and put their lives in harm’s way to protect us. I’m helping them the only way I know how by providing dogs that improve their lives,” Sharon said.

ABC’s dog trainer course is offered online and through its On-Campus Dog Trainer Program. The On-Campus Dog Trainer Program is for military veterans, their spouses or dependent children, as well as students with no military affiliation. The program covers a range of relevant topics, including learning theories, basic dog obedience cues, problem solving, business building, and pet first aid and CPR. Students receive hands-on experience and invaluable information that equips them to start a dog training business, work for an established company, or pursue other professional canine-related passions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment for dog trainers and other animal care and service workers will grow 22 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. With 60.2 million U.S. households owning a dog, which equates to 89.7 million dogs, according to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, ABC certified dog trainers have the option of working for an established company or building their own successful dog training business.

ABC also offers four other professional certifications in cat training, pet grooming, veterinary assisting and aquarium maintenance. Specialized certificates of completion in seven short-term programs are also available on subjects, including doggie daycare, pet fostering, pet nutrition and training shelter dogs.

Military veterans may qualify for financial assistance. Call 800-795-3294 or visit here to learn more.

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