Dogs helping people live their lives - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Dogs helping people live their lives

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MADISON (WKOW) -- There is a special program to help people with physical disabilities, and it involves service dogs.

The Wisconsin Academy for Graduate Service Dogs, otherwise known as WAGS, was established in 1987 in Madison. Since then, it's been training dogs to help people with physical disabilities. 

We've had some of those very special dogs at our WKOW offices. WKOW employee, Jesi Hartman, is a WAGS trainer. 

Her last dog she trained was Ocean, a Golden Retriever who had been in training to be a service dog since she was eight weeks old. Earlier this month, Ocean was placed in her forever home with Cindy Baudhuin.

Hartman says Baudhuin has multiple sclerosis (MS) and uses a wheelchair full time. She says Ocean and Baudhuin hit it off right away, and now Ocean helps her by retrieving dropped and out of reach items.

Hartman says all of the WAGS dogs are taught many skills through the process, including tugging open the fridge, nosing the handicap button to open a door, giving credit cards at stores and turning lights on and off.

"Each dog picks up the skills at a different pace, but with patience, practice and good treats, they typically catch on pretty quickly," Hartman said. "These dogs help their clients in more ways than I ever thought possible and they really do become a team. It is amazing the transformation they make in two years of training and to see them perform the skills needed to help someone makes all the hard work totally worth it."

Hartman is now puppy sitting for Scout while his trainers are gone. Scout is 3 ½ months old, and like all dogs in the WAGS program, Scout started at eight weeks and will be in training until he is two years old.

According to Hartman, Scout is already learning commands like sit, down, wait, heal and retrieve.

Hartman says the biggest way someone can help is to become a volunteer trainer like herself. She says the waiting list for a service dog is currently at two years, so trainers are very valuable.

If you aren't able to make that commitment, Hartman says people can also volunteer to be a puppy sitter or make a donation to WAGS.

Hartman says it has been an amazing experience to learn how to train the dogs and watch them progress in their skills from puppies to service dogs.

Click here for more information about WAGS. You can also check out WAGS' Facebook page.

Hartman and Scout join us on 27 News at 5 on Wednesday to talk about the program and how Scout's training is going.

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