A club pairs at-need children with service dogs.
Story by Wendy Rose Gould
For many, dogs serve as dear companions. For Halle Berg and her mother, Shakira, their golden retriever, Sandi, is that and more. Sandi was gifted to the Bergs as part of the Alert Service Dogs for Kids Academy, a program founded by the Kiwanis Club of Grand Junction, Colorado, and headed by Rita Crumpton, a club member and dog trainer.
The program pairs service dogs at no cost with children who have “silent disabilities,” including diabetes, epilepsy and allergy-alert issues. Five years ago, Crumpton took the idea to the club, and members enthusiastically decided to move forward.
“It took me two years to get it all set up and ready to go, and to find a puppy and a child. I found Halle, and an attorney in the club helped with the paperwork. From there, I went looking for volunteers in the community,” explains Crumpton.
Two veterinarians committed to wellness packages for two puppies each for the necessary two-year training period. A family-owned pet store offered supplies and food at cost for six dogs, and a trainer volunteered to do the initial training. Additionally, the club annually allocates funds, and one member has committed to providing US$1,000 a year for 10 years. These donations go toward purchasing puppies and funding their advanced training.
Halle, who is hearing-impaired and has diabetes, epilepsy and heart arrhythmia, was the first to receive a puppy and graduate from the program. Two more puppies are in training with their boys, and four kids are on the waiting list, with more puppies on the way.
“Sandi has helped me in every way and form, even when I’m not sure what’s happening,” Halle says. “He even makes sure to cuddle me when I’m sad. Sandi is the best dog ever, and I love him with all my heart.”
Her mother’s life has been truly altered as well.
“He does everything. He goes to the fridge, opens the door and gets her a snack when her blood sugar is low, and then goes back and gets her tester,” she says. “When she’s having a seizure, he corrals her, makes her lay down and then lays on top of her before alerting an adult.”
Since Sandi entered the Berg’s lives, Shakira has received only two calls from Halle’s school — down from six per day.
“The program may not impact a whole bunch of kids at once, but it is going to save a child’s life,” says Crumpton. “To me, that’s my job as a Kiwanian: to improve the world one child at a time.”
This story originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Kiwanis magazine.