How Service Dogs Can Help
Glad Wags Service Dogs are trained to serve individuals with autism, PTSD, seizures, diabetes and other medical conditions.
Dog is God spelled backwards.” Marj “The Dog Trainer” Satterfield often uses that phrase as she witnesses canine miracles through Glad Wags Service Dogs, the non-profit organization she founded to train dogs to serve individuals with autism, PTSD, seizures, diabetes and other medical conditions. Glad Wags is one of only a few facilities that trains dogs for children younger than 12, which is key for children with autism.
A professional dog trainer since 1974, Marj has been helping people through Glad Wags for the past nine years. Her organization is the only local resource for service dogs for autism. While corporate service dog organizations may have a five- or six-year waiting list, Glad Wags has no waiting list and currently has six dogs in training to work with children who have autism. The training-to-placement process takes about a year, and Marj has seven volunteers to assist her.
“Autism dogs help in many ways,” Marj said. “Many kids with autism don’t sleep well, so the dogs help them sleep better in their own rooms. The dogs can discern meltdowns and help soothe the child, plus they can be taught to be guard dogs to help catch the child if they get away and track them.”
Marj finds her service dogs in shelters, usually selecting dogs around 2 years of age and then training each dog for a specific child. She looks for dogs with a good history who have a good work ethic and can take the pressure of being a service dog. For autism dogs, calmness is key, and herding breeds are usually good choices since they are smart and easy to train.
“It’s so neat to rescue a dog from a kill shelter and then to see what we can do with a shelter dog,” Marj said.
Jodie Nida’s grandson, Leyton, has been working with his service dog, Blush, for three years.
“Leyton is a very special boy learning to deal with the challenges of autism, SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Since early intervention had proven to be so successful in other special needs children, we wanted to try every possible therapy – including a service dog. Blush joined the family when Leyton was 5 years old and the light at the end of the tunnel began glowing a bit brighter. He is now 8, and he has steadily improved in a variety of ways,” Jodie said. “What were once frequent emotional outbursts are almost gone, and when they do occur, they are instantly ended by Blush’s ‘On Leyton’ command. Her calming bodyweight across his torso offers him the sensory input his body craves, and hugging her brings him back to a world he can better handle. Thanks to Blush, his daily struggle with the overwhelming chaos of life is much easier – she is his familiar, soft, warm, loving anchor.”
Elisabeth Yankey and her family welcomed Brian, a 2-year-old German shepherd mix, into their family in March. She has two sons (ages 10 and 11) who have autism, and they visit the Glad Wags training center at 51st and Memorial in Tulsa once a week for training with Brian.
“When the kids are in meltdown mode, the dog can cover them and help to stabilize them,” Elisabeth said. She started her own business to make awareness jewelry for medical conditions (yankeydesigns.com) to help with funding for Brian. Elisabeth would also like to add a second service dog to their family.
This will be the fourth year for Glad Wags to benefit from the Rotary Club of Tulsa Sunrise Foundation’s annual Lobster Fest Dinner and Charity Auction planned for Aug. 26. The Sunrise Foundation provides a $2,000 scholarship for 15 families a year for Glad Wags autism dogs.
“The Rotary Club of Tulsa Sunrise Foundation is thrilled to raise awareness of autism and to raise funds for assistance dogs for adults and children with the debilitating disease of autism. Our annual Lobster Fest dinner and charity auction has funded more than 50 service dogs, either in placement or training, to date. Our wish is to continue to appreciably cut the cost and wait time to the access of assistance dogs to the autistic clients of Glad Wags Service Dogs, allowing these individuals to live a more productive and independent lifestyle,” said Carolyn McGhay, president of Sunrise Rotary.
“Glad Wags is so appreciative and grateful beyond words for the support from Lobster Fest,” Marj said. “It’s such a relief to be able to say we can offer a scholarship to a family. That way we don’t have to turn anyone away.”
Helping families is almost a ministry of sorts for Marj and Glad Wags.
“It’s life changing for everyone involved – myself, my staff and the family. A dog can always help,” Marj said. “I’ve never failed to be amazed.”
Jodie agrees that service dogs change lives for the better.
“Although technically Blush is trained to do a variety of physical things to help Leyton, the most beneficial has been something completely unexpected. Because of his issues, being in public can be extremely challenging. The friendly smiles he and Blush now receive (instead of awkward stares and open avoidance by strangers) are priceless. Leyton’s self-esteem is boosted with each outing! Glad Wags has given us two things every special needs family craves – peace of mind and hope. Glad Wags really does change lives…And save lives! We love Glad Wags!” Jodie said.
For more information about Glad Wags, please visit www.gladwagsservicedogs.com.