Goodwill Graduates Ready To Go Out And Do Good

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The second class of fully-trained Goodwill assistance dogs is ready to take on the world. Topper, Murphy and Danny, Class of 2014, graduate on Friday, June 13, after which they join new families and begin new lives as working companions and forever friends to three area residents.   

Graduation from the Goodwill Assistance Dog Academy is at 5 p.m., Unum Atrium, West Building, Walnut Street. 

Mason Plott, of Ringgold and a Heritage Middle School student, will make Danny his long-awaited “forever friend.” Bliss Welch, of Harrison and the 2013 Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee, will add Murphy to her family of three, which includes daughter Annabelle and husband Jeremy. Rich Burns of Cleveland, will go home with Topper.  

A two-week “training camp” for both dogs and recipients precedes the ceremony. Camp includes lectures and hands-on practice of basic commands, such as “down,” “free dog” and “thank you.” Outings to local malls, restaurants and movie theaters will follow in the second week. Camp is 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., June 2–13, at the GADA facilities, Chattanooga Goodwill Industries, 3500 Dodds Ave. 

The camp helps troubleshoot potential challenges and strengthens the bond of the canine/owner teams. The dogs have already learned more than 90 commands over the course of two years’ training, and they were carefully matched earlier this year with people from a growing list of assistance dog applicants.    

Recipients live within the 23-county service area of Chattanooga Goodwill Industries and receive their assistance dog at no cost to them. Funding for the $25,000 cost of raising and training each dog comes from Goodwill retail store revenue, financial gifts, fundraising events and donations. 

Graduation of a second class of fully-trained assistance dogs from a five-year-old program is a noteworthy feat, according to Director Ramona Nichols. “To be a relatively new program and to be able to fund and place six dogs as working dogs at this point is a huge accomplishment. My peers in the industry are amazed,” she said. 

During their training, GADA dogs provide extensive therapy and skill-building opportunities in the community. Dog training programs have been held at the Next Door in Chattanooga and with a veterans group. GADA students visit nursing homes and hospitals and participate in reading enhancement programs at two local public schools.  

For more information or to visit training camp, contact Ms. Nichols at 629-2501, ext. 2590,  or Mary Lockhart, Goodwill Communications coordinator, 629-2501, ext. 2550,

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