A face that is beginning to be recognized and provide joy around our facilities is George, Denver Rescue Mission’s first therapy dog. George is becoming a staple in providing support and comfort as our guests and participants work towards change. This is all thanks to the incredible training provided by the team at Dog Training Elite- Denver. Their owner, Bert Ballard, shared more about the services they provide and the work they’ve been doing with George!

How would you describe Dog Training Elite and what services do you provide?

We’re a family-owned, full-service dog training company. We are part of a franchise system and every system is locally owned. We offer quite a variety of programs- we have 20 different training programs ranging from obedience, of course, but then also advanced work and specialized work. Kind of our heart really lies in service work where we’re providing service dogs for individuals with a documented disability whether it’s physical, whether it’s mental, whether it is autism, whether it is seizures. Some of our programs work with issues including:

  • Psychological- social anxiety, anxiety, depression, PTSD.
  • Mobility- for multiple mobility challenges like planting, counterbalancing, pulling a wheelchair, bracing.
  • Autism- we are one of the few companies in the nation who offer dogs for autism support. And that could include a variety of things. We used a very specialized tool called differential bonding where the dog bonds with the intended person or handler but listens to other family members or teams.
  • Scent- we can scent alert for things like seizures, epileptic and non-epileptic allergens, can catch differential activity disorder, autoimmune disorders, a whole bunch of different kinds of things, even food allergens.
  • Personal Protection Program- it’s for people that want to teach their dog for safety reasons to get a little more reassurance, but it’s always about being a pet first, a working dog second.

Can you share about your experience working with therapy dogs and specifically how George is being trained to help with the Mission?

So, therapy dogs are dogs that are trained with a handler as a team to go into the community to provide therapeutic support. And that can be a lot of things. They can simply provide companionship to brighten your day for seniors or children that may be in a hospital. It can be a reminder of different times or better times, just that you know having a nonjudgmental being that’s there with you, much like what George is doing for the Mission. George doesn’t judge. George is like “oh people” because he loves them.

It can be much more crisis related. Say you have a situation where there’s a crime committed and there are victims, the dog can support the victims. They can help children read. There’s research that backs where you take a dog into a school, children’s reading improves when they’re reading to the dog, because the dog doesn’t judge them whereas they may feel judged by their teacher or their peers.

They can simply be a presence in a massage therapy room, in a clinical therapeutic room, a whole bunch of different things. Really, the applications are endless. It can be just a dog that’s there to remind you if you’re coming back after military service, you were in a wartime situation, or there is conflict when you’re back home, the dog can help normalize you. There’s lots of ways dogs provide that therapy support.

George has the right temperament. He’s got the right kind of approach and openness to people and yet he’s confident enough that he monitors himself. It’s just been great to watch him grow, watch them bond together because the team part is important, and just to be a part of your community and what’s going on there.

As our guests and participants work to rebuild different areas of their lives, it’s important for them to feel that they can work towards change in a judgement-free environment, where they have a space to grow and not be hindered by their past circumstances. In a lot of situations, George is able to create that calm and comfortable environment. George’s love for people never wavers and comes free of judgement.

This type of environment is what allows individuals in our programs to open up, discuss their specific situations and work to heal from past trauma, all of which are important steps towards recovery and self-sufficiency. And though rehabilitation and working towards gaining stability can be a long process, George helps provide a sense of peace for everyone he interacts with during that journey.

Do you have a favorite memory or accomplishment over the years of training?

There are so many. I think one that comes to mind is we had a young woman who had panic attacks and couldn’t leave her house. And I remember she couldn’t go to Costco. After we trained her dog, she’s like, “I’m going to Costco now. I’m shopping for my family.” That was a huge one for me just as like she felt like she could provide for her family and she feels like she got her life back. And that really is an example of what we try to provide for all of our clients, you know, giving that support giving that access, just feeling good to come back into life like everybody else and not feeling like you have to hide who you are. And just so many of those stories that I can think of, so many different dogs we train for seizure alert, where the young person can move out of the house and the young person is able to go to work. Those kinds of things really, that’s the reward that we really appreciate.

We are very grateful for all the time, instruction and care Dog Training Elite- Denver has invested in our therapy dog, George, and the Mission’s ability to reach individuals further at their spiritual and physical points of need.

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