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Service dog program to hold Langley fundraiser

Max playfully pulls a ball from 5-year-old Hugh Evans, a Wellington Day School student. Barbara Guetlin, owner of the golden retriever, encounters people every day who want to meet Max.  - Celeste Erickson / The Record
Max playfully pulls a ball from 5-year-old Hugh Evans, a Wellington Day School student. Barbara Guetlin, owner of the golden retriever, encounters people every day who want to meet Max.
— image credit: Celeste Erickson / The Record

A program providing unconditional love is seeking a little financial love from the South Whidbey community.

Summit Assistance Dogs, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance dogs for people with disabilities, will have a benefit called “Unleash your love Whidbey” at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 26 to help raise money for the program. The event will be held at Cafe in the Woods, 3228 Lake Leo Way in Langley.

Developed in response to the high need for trained service dogs for people with disabilities, the Anacortes-based program also has dogs for adoption who do not meet the requirements of a service dog but can assist with other needs.

Founded in 2000, it has now matched 70 dogs with people with various disabilities. The trained animals can open and close doors, pick up items, retrieve an emergency telephone and alert people to important sounds.

Melissa Barran, volunteer with the organization, said she has heard over and over how people love the dogs and want to do more.

“I was lucky enough to be introduced to this agency and I’ve never looked back,” she said.

The program is developing a contingent of volunteers with about a dozen of the volunteers working on the Whidbey event.

Barran said it is amazing to hear owners talk about the connection between dog and recipient. People who were once shy now have a companion, she said.

The animals are free for the person applying and it generally takes about two years to train each animal, though the time can vary. The cost to train each dog is about $25,000. Dogs from shelters are accepted into the program at various ages and from almost all breeds.

The organization has also partnered with the Monroe Correctional Complex to develop a program where inmates train the dogs for part of the process. If a dog is deemed unfit as a service animal, it is relieved and available for adoption.

Barbara Guetlin, a Freeland resident, is in the process of adopting Max from the program. Max, a 2-year-old golden retriever, is a little mischievous, which is why he was relieved from the program, she said.

He’s interested in too many distractions to be a service animal, but is a perfect dog to take to work — the Stress Management Association in Mukilteo, she said. Max helps her patients feel better by reducing depression and anxiety during therapy sessions.

Max’s reach extends beyond her job, however. Guetlin said she often encounters people who approach her just to pet Max and ease their anxieties.

Guetlin adopted Max to help her patients at work, but he has become her dog as well. She enjoys having a constant friend and the commitment having a pet brings.

“To have Max as a companion gives my life more meaning,” she said.

 

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