Assistance Dogs of America, Ability Center to mergeWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Two regional service providers for those with disabilities will merge into a single organization.
Under the new collaborative agreement, announced Oct. 9, Assistance Dogs of America Inc. will become a program of the Ability Center of Greater Toledo.
Financial and operational management of Assistance Dogs will be assumed by the Ability Center and governance of Assistance Dogs will transfer to the Ability Center board of directors. Ten current Assistance Dog staff members will become Ability Center employees.
Assistance Dogs, which trains and places service and therapy dogs with area residents with disabilities, will relocate its training program and administrative offices from Swanton to the Ability Center campus at 5605 Monroe St., in Sylvania.
The Ability Center, which provides a variety of programs to assist disabled residents of seven Northwest Ohio counties, will move its resource center to a planned new facility on nearby Skelly Road in Sylvania.
Private funding is being sought for the renovation and the building project with the transition expected to be completed by spring 2012. Once the move is complete, the Swanton property will be sold.
Ability Center board chair Pam Howell-Beach said the two organizations share a common mission of assisting those with disabilities live as independently as possible.
“I am privileged and proud to be able to announce today that our two organizations which are best known for their commitment to people with disabilities can form this strategic partnership destined to have a significant impact on the communities we serve for years to come,” Howell-Beach said during a news conference Oct. 9 at the Ability Center.
“There was a growing sense with every meeting of the excitement that we were all experiencing as we considered the increased opportunities we had to serve and the ways in which we could amplify together what we do on behalf of our communities and on behalf of our consumers.”
Assistance Dogs board chair Cheri Budzynski also spoke, saying the partnership with the Ability Center is the next logical step for the organization.
“This new arrangement will allow us to extend our services to the broader audience and we are looking forward to the opportunities it will provide,” Budzynski said. “Along with being able to train more dogs, our association with the Ability Center will increase public awareness about the possibilities and value of full accessibility for all citizens. Service and therapy dogs provide a special kind of service, comfort and companionship to people of all ages. This new collaboration not only is an opportunity to better address those with disabilities in the Greater Toledo area, but it will also encourage us to look for other ways to serve.”
Howell-Beach said the wooded Sylvania property will be a perfect match for the dogs.
“It’s doggy heaven out here,” Howell-Beach said. “It’s really exciting from a board member’s perspective. It really makes a lot of sense for the community.”
Jennifer Schwartz of Maumee, who has had her assistance dog, Allie, for nine years, said the new location will be good for the dogs as well as the Assistance Dogs trainers and volunteers.
“It’ll be wonderful for the dogs,” Schwartz said. “The barn [in Swanton], it’s very nice and everything; I just think with this kind of atmosphere, it will be great, and more centrally located too for people who come in from out of town.”
Schwartz, who uses a wheelchair, said Allie, a Labrador retriever, is invaluable in helping with day-to-day tasks especially when her husband, Kevin, is at work.
“It took a year and half to get my dog, but it was so wonderful,” Schwartz said. “She’s just amazing. She’s just beautiful. She’s my little girl.”
Schwartz was especially grateful for Allie when she fell in her garage and Allie was able to bring her a cell phone to call for assistance.
“I was trying to get into my car,” Schwartz said. “My purse was on the passenger side and my cell phone was in there. Allie was already in the back seat of the car, so I said ‘Allie, take mom’s purse and come.’ She jumped over the seat, grabbed my purse and dropped it in my lap.”
Schwartz’s husband, Kevin, said the merger will be a good match.
“They’re both good organizations that’s for sure,” Kevin said. “You can’t go wrong.”
Tim Harrington, executive director of the Ability Center, said the reaction to the merger from the Ability Center’s clients has been positive.
“Oh yeah, who doesn’t love dogs?” Harrington said. “The response has been really good.”
The Ability Center of Greater Toledo also has regional offices in Defiance and Port Clinton.
Assistance Dogs of America Inc. has trained and placed more than 250 service and therapy dogs with area residents in 25 years to help them live independently. It also launched the PUPPS program, which teaches inmate at the Toledo Correctional Institute to raise and train dogs.