4 Paws: A Timeline
4 Paws was founded in 1998 by Karen Shirk after she tried unsuccessfully for years to obtain a service dog from traditional service dog agencies. At the time, Karen often used a ventilator to breathe and the agencies she applied to found her too disabled to receive a service dog.
1 Bedroom, 2 Service Dogs
4 Paws for Ability begins in a 1-bedroom apartment in Batavia, Ohio. That year, two service dogs are placed with their humans.
Warren Correctional Institute
4 Paws begins a partnership with Warren Correctional Institute, laying the groundwork for our inmate-led prison training program.
The first season of Animal Planet’s Animal Miracles airs, narrated by Alan Thicke. Karen Shirk’s story is featured in an early episode.
Piper is Born
Karen’s service dog Piper is born. Piper will become the official mascot and “unofficial CEO” of 4 Paws. Before long, the papillon will be the only small breed trained for service work at 4 Paws.
207 Dayton Avenue
4 Paws purchases a single-story building at 207 Dayton Avenue that previously housed the local VFW.
The 4 Paws in-house breeding program begins with the birth of a litter of German Shepherd puppies.
4 Paws Headquarters
The 1900s farmhouse at 253 Dayton Avenue in Xenia, purchased by Karen when her adopted family outgrew the Batavia apartment and used as the first 4 Paws headquarters, officially becomes a 4 Paws property. Karen purchases a new home a few miles away, and the two properties on Dayton Avenue officially becomes 4 Paws for Ability headquarters.
Karen Shirk is honored by Cable News Network (CNN) as a CNN Hero, recognizing “everyday people changing the world.”
DirectTV Hometown Hero
Karen Shirk is honored as a “Hometown Hero” by DirectTV and featured in a 10-part series on their 101 Network.
4 Paws places its first service dog with a military veteran.
Karen is named Energizer Bunny of the Year, sponsored by Energizer Batteries.
Charity of the Year
4 Paws receives the Midwest region Charity of the Year at the 4th Annual Classy Awards, sponsored by StayClassy.
BYUtv features 4 Paws in the documentary Turning Point.
Walk of Fame
Karen Shirk’s name is placed on the Walk of Fame at Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, TX, the first accessible theme park designed for individuals with disabilities.
4 Paws breaks ground on a $2 million dollar building expansion.
4 Paws celebrates the completion of the building program with an Open House.
Karen’s service dog Piper crosses the “Rainbow Bridge.” With her passing, Piper establishes 4 Paws “Heaven Headquarters,” where 4 Paws dogs are waiting to greet all the beloved 4 Paws kids who left this world too soon.
Golden lab Enrico becomes the 1000th 4 Paws service dog placed.
4 Paws on Netflix
The Netflix series Dogs premiers on the streaming service. The first episode is dedicated to the 4 Paws story, as told through the eyes of some of our client families.
Daytonian of the Week
Karen Shirk is named “Daytonian of the Week” by Dayton Daily News.
Three more properties adjacent to the 4 Paws Xenia headquarters are purchased. Plans for a new, state-of-the-art Puppy House begin on the site of the old farmhouse to support the increasing demand for 4 Paws service dogs.