Pfaff helps four-legged friends
March 27, 2012 • Kendra Hall
Filed under News
Imagine being ten years old training special service dogs. For freshman Madison Pfaff this was a reality. Madison, now fourteen, has been the junior trainer for Palmetto Animal Assistance Life Services (PAALS) since 2010. She works withLabradorsand Lab Golden Retriever mixes as part of a program that trains service dogs for people with disabilities. Pfaff helps to teach the dogs to do some of the physical tasks like pick things up, turn on and off light switches, and open and close doors that their future owners cannot do for themselves.
Madison says, “I wanted to do this because it’s not something everyone does; it’s unique. I have this way of working with the dogs and the special needs people and those in wheelchairs.”
The first step in the training process is a temperament test for the puppies. The puppies reactions to loud noises, textures and being held are evaluated and only the puppies who score well in all categories are selected for further training. Along with the dogs, trainers must go through their own type of training.
Pfaff says, “You have to go to orientation and a few all day training classes.”
Madisonwent through these classes as part of the six month training that is required to get a public access certification. This certification gives Madison and all other trainers the knowledge to train dogs that will eventually be used to increase public access for handicapped individuals.
She also did a couple summer internships and in the years following became a PAALS junior trainer. Trainers are chosen by evaluating how they interact with the dogs and understand how to train them properly. Fortunately, trainers can be any age.
Madisonusually fosters a service dog, which means she spends the most time with that dog but she trains all of them equally. Her love for animals doesn’t stop with dogs.
She has many pets at home along with taking care of the service dogs including two pet dogs and three cats. Madisonis such an animal lover that she wants to become a professional trainer for special service dogs.
She says, “I would LOVE to make this my career because I love working with the dogs and love to make clients feel like they can be on their own again and that they don’t need to depend on other people all the time.”
It takes a special kind of person to work with special service dogs andMadisonis a perfect match. She loves helping people and she wants nothing more than for people to realize that they do not need to depend on others.
“Before I got involved with this I always saw people in wheelchairs and just walked away thinking that they were different and not normal but now I find myself going up to people and having these long conversations with them, even though we had never met. They are just like you and me but they just have an extra challenge in their life, having a service dog can make all the difference,” saysMadison.