WORK­ING CLASS

Blue-col­lar pets find new mean­ing, a chance to use the gifts na­ture pro­vides

RSWLiving - - Features - BY ANN MARIE O’PHE­LAN Ann Marie O’Phe­lan is a res­i­dent of South­west Florida who writes about a va­ri­ety of lo­cal top­ics and en­joys boat­ing, din­ing, and all things trop­i­cal.

Blue-col­lar pets find new mean­ing, a chance to use the gifts na­ture pro­vides

They are high en­ergy and in­tel­li­gent, hard-work­ing and dili­gent. While these may make good traits in a hu­man, they can be prob­lem­atic in work­ing dog breeds. Un­for­tu­nately, such dogs of­ten wind up in shel­ters―or worse. Work­ing Dog Res­cue Academy in Cape Co­ral, or WDRA, was founded on the premise of find­ing and train­ing these pooches, uti­liz­ing their amaz­ing sen­sory skills for such places as law en­force­ment, searc­hand-res­cue teams, as ser­vice and cancer de­tect­ing dogs, and to alert own­ers of on­com­ing seizures, or even low blood sugar. Some dogs as­sist in ther­apy for post-trau­matic stress disor­der and to aid those with de­pres­sion or anx­i­ety.

Crystal McClaran, a WDRA trainer spe­cial­iz­ing in high-drive work­ing breeds with en­ergy or be­hav­ioral prob­lems, says that while dogs in general are her pas­sion, work­ing dogs are par­tic­u­larly en­joy­able to work with. “They are so in­tel­li­gent and pow­er­ful and it’s re­ally

re­ward­ing to find what makes them click and watch them thrive,” says McClaran, who says the dogs can sud­denly re­al­ize a pur­pose.

“The dogs we res­cue, and ul­ti­mately put to work, are sim­ply not liv­ing the lives they were born to live, which is a life filled with a love and a pas­sion to work,” says Breezy Roach, WDRA founder and pres­i­dent and a ca­nine be­hav­ior­ist and train­ing spe­cial­ist. Al­though there is no spe­cific age that the academy works with, the dogs are gen­er­ally not older than five years, she says. WDRA has de­vel­oped re­la­tion­ships with shel­ters and res­cues that con­tact them when they have a dog that’s un­adopt­able as a pet but may have the po­ten­tial to be a work­ing dog. “We screen the dog for so­cia­bil­ity, tem­per­a­ment, en­ergy and nat­u­ral work­ing drives in or­der to de­ter­mine if the dog is a good can­di­date for our pro­gram,” ex­plains Roach.

And just be­cause these dogs may pass the ini­tial screen­ing, they may first need re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion be­fore they can be­gin work­ing dog train­ing, Roach says. “We have cer­ti­fied ca­nine be­hav­ior­ists on our staff for such cases.”

Ag­gres­sive­ness, anx­i­ety, so­cial­iza­tion and some­times fears of loud noises or of stairs are is­sues that can­di­date dogs are en­dur­ing, Roach says. “Fur­ther­more, some dogs’ nat­u­ral drives are in­hib­ited and need to be un­locked,” ex­plains Roach, adding that these drives are the foun­da­tion for suc­cess­ful train­ing, such as prey and hunt drives. “Prey drive is the ba­sis of K9 train­ing, such as chas­ing a sus­pect, while hunt drive is key to a K9 hunt­ing for [its] tar­get odor,” says Roach.

The WDRA staff in­cludes highly qual­i­fied and ex­pe­ri­enced train­ers: Michelle Del­laneym, Tracy Potemra-Hu­dak, Crystal McClaran and Jodie Eblin. The WDRA also works with a team of ad­vis­ers. Be­fore be­ing placed in the work­ing world, the dogs must pass all re­quire­ments. These “in­clude stren­u­ous and tena­cious train­ing, proof­ing of likely and po­ten­tial ob­sta­cles, dis­trac­tions, as well as temp­ta­tions and tribu­la­tions the dog may [and likely will] en­counter and go through in real-life sit­u­a­tions,” says Roach.

If a dog fails the train­ing, it goes to one of the academy’s af­fil­i­ated res­cues whose pur­pose is pet place­ment. There is gen­er­ally an adop­tion fee that de­pends, in part, on the de­gree of train­ing the dog has un­der­gone, Roach says. And some­times the dogs are trained with dual pur­poses, such as scent de­tec­tion and pa­trols, as with some K9s, so the adop­tion fee varies. All dogs are vet­ted and are cur­rent on vac­cines. The adop­tion fees help sup­port the WDRA and the dogs.

The non-profit WDRA holds a va­ri­ety of fund­ing events, which are posted on the group’s web­site. Also on the web­site are items for pos­si­ble do­na­tion, such as groom­ing items, clean­ing sup­plies, train­ing col­lars, leashes, click­ers, muz­zles, and K9 train­ing items such as bite sleeves, bite suits, tug toys and scent de­tec­tion boxes. The WDRA is also pur­su­ing and re­cruit­ing qual­i­fied train­ers. “Our goal is to grow and build a suf­fi­cient train­ing fa­cil­ity and ken­nels to help house these res­cues while we re­ha­bil­i­tate and train them,” says Roach.

Be­fore be­ing placed in the work­ing world, the dogs must pass all re­quire­ments.

Work­ing Dog Res­cue Academy can­di­dates should have high en­ergy and a sense of pur­pose.

Tracy Potemra-Hu­dak (left) trains res­cued dogs. One K9 task is drug searches (cen­ter). WDRA founder Breezy Roach (right) says res­cues are screened for so­cia­bil­ity and tem­per­a­ment.

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