Conner Gretz

By | Make a Dream Come True

Meet Conner Gretz!

He’s 8 years old, and was diagnosed in 2013 with ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), ADHD, SPD (sensory processing disorder), and a seizure disorder, but began exhibiting signs a year before. Conner has trouble relating to humans, and has no human friends; he says that his best friends are the cat and his toys. He has no fear. The possibility of injury, the speed of moving cars–nothing scares him, and this makes him a daredevil. He frequently gets hurt doing things like going down the sliding board headfirst or climbing onto the swing set sideways. He darts away in public, mostly in parking lots, sometimes into oncoming parking lot traffic. This is made further difficult by his ODD, which triggers him to say no to everything–even fun things like going to the park or eating a treat.

Conner’s family dreams of a multipurpose service dog that could eliminate the fear of Conner running away into danger’s path by being tethered to him, and be able to track him if he did manage to get away and hide. A service dog would also provide deep pressure contact, which would help with his SPD, and be trained in behavior disruption tactics to help with meltdowns.

Conner loves to cuddle and loves animals, taking great pride in helping with his pets (three cats and one fish), which means that a dog would be right at home with Conner. He also loves bugging his big sister, Shyanna…which means he’s not so different from any other little boy!

Conner’s family is working to raise $14,000 toward 4 Paws’ mission to qualify for a service dog that will improve the quality of his life immensely. His sister, Shyanna, 7, has autism and a seizure disorder, and received a 4 Paws service dog in June of 2013. Thank you for helping make Shyanna’s dream come true, and if you can, please help do the same for Conner by making a donation today to 4 Paws for Ability in honor of Conner Gretz.

To help:

  • Click “Donate now!” and specify that your donation is for Conner Gretz
  • Or mail a check with Conner Gretz in the memo line to:

4 Paws for Ability
In Honor of Conner Gretz
253 Dayton Ave.
Xenia, Ohio 45385


Dayton Daily News: “Service dogs underscore a ‘magic’ bond”

By | From the Staff, In the Media, Service Dog Stories

May 8, 2014— This interview with our founder, Karen Shirk, ran in the “Ideas and Voices” section of the Dayton Daily News, the major newspaper serving the metropolitan region which includes 4 Paws home of Xenia, Ohio.

Click to enlarge scan to full size.

Click to enlarge scan to full size.

We recently learned of a local service that helps people in an unusual way — by putting service dogs in homes that need them. Karen Shirk is the founder, CEO and executive director of 4 Paws For Ability, located at 235 Dayton Ave. in Xenia. We caught up with her recently right before she headed to Germany to obtain several more dogs to train. To learn more, visit Here’s our conversation.Ron Rollins 

Q: Describe the organization and its mission.

A: We’re a nonprofit organization that trains and places service dogs for disabled children and veterans. I founded it in 1998.

Q: Where did you get the idea that there was a need for a service like yours?

A: I was trying to get a service dog for myself, and everyplace I went wouldn’t give me one because they thought I was too disabled — I use a ventilator to breathe — and so I had to get my own dog and train it myself. I went as far as I could on my own, then I got help from National Canine in Columbus. I realized that I wanted to work with groups that were underserved — and that turned out to be children. At the time, nobody was placing service dogs with children, so it worked out.

Q: What do service dogs do for their people?

A: There are so many types of them. We train dogs to work with autistic children, to help with the safety issues associated with autism. We do the same for children with Down syndrome or similar disorders. We also work with hearing-impaired children, to let the dogs be alert to the sounds in their environment. We train dogs for young children who are blind, for children in wheelchairs — to help them with things like picking up things they’ve dropped, or opening doors. We also train alert dogs that are alert to children with seizures, or high and low blood sugar for diabetes kids, or for food allergies.

Q: So for example, what does a service dog do for a child who is prone to seizures? 

A: It alerts the parents that a seizure is going to occur so the parents can do what they need to do.

Q: How long does it take to train the dogs?

A: It takes about a year to train and place a service dog, and over 500 hours of training is devoted to each dog. We have five trainers, five training assistants and a training director.

Q: Can any dog be trained for this sort of service?

A: Not all. I think any dog is trainable, of course, but not all are suited for service. For instance, dogs who are bred for protection, or to hunt, or to move herds and stuff — they’re too protective. The dogs that make good service dogs are the ones that you’ll see online as considered the most trainable — happy, fun-loving dogs like labs, golden retrievers. They have to have that personality and temperament to work in public.


Karen reads the article for the first time while awaiting the start of our May 2014 training class, Monday, May 12, 2014.

Q: How many dogs are you managing at one time?

A: We own about 300 dogs, from newborns to ready-to-graduate adult service dogs. They live in various places — some in our facility, some in prisons, homes, college campuses and fosters homes.

Q: Prisons?

A: We have a program where the puppies go to live with the inmates, who housebreak them and teach them basic obedience before we train them. It’s good for the inmates and for the dogs.

Q: How many dogs have you placed over 15 years? 

A: More than 800. We have an arrangement we call provisional ownership, where the family we place the dog with owns it as long as they take good care of the dog. If they breach the contract, we take the dog back. We check up on them — the first year, we check in at one, three, six, nine and 12 months, and then yearly after that. It generally works out well, too — we’ve only had a few times when dogs were returned. The families need to maintain the training for the dogs, and they come here to our facility for two weeks to learn how to use the dogs properly.

Q: Describe your facility in Xenia.

A: Well, it’s big — but not big enough, so we’re getting ready to expand. There’s a place for the dogs to stay, a play area for children, a training area for the families. We have a full-time veterinarian here, too. We’re breaking ground this year on the expansion — we will triple the size of the building. We raised the first $500,000 we needed during a campaign so that we can get a loan that we’ll pay off in five years. If people are curious about what we do, they’re invited to come drop by and visit us any time.

Q: What’s the most gratifying part of the job?

A: Seeing the kids get their dogs. That first day when they meet their dogs, that’s the day we all live for.

Q: Do you still have the first dog you trained yourself, years ago?

A: Unfortunately not. Dogs do, sadly, have a limited lifespan. Mine lived to be eight. Now I have a service dog named Piper — a papillon, who helps me with medical alerts. She alerts me if I’m about to have respiratory failure, so that I can medicate. She knows ahead of time if it’s going to happen. I don’t know how she knows.

Q: That’s interesting — talk about the bond between people and dogs.

A: I usually just say it’s magic. I’m not sure anybody really understands it. There are lots of things dogs know that people don’t know how they know. With seizure work, for instance, they can smell different changes in body chemistry that occur before the episode. Same with sugar highs and lows in diabetics. They’re very intuitive in ways we don’t understand. Like with veterans who have PTSD — you can’t train a dog to understand that, but they are very tuned to our emotions, and can tell when the person is starting to get worked up, so they can deal with it. Who knows how they do it? I say they’re on a higher spiritual plane than we are. It’s just magic.

Copyright, 2014, Cox Ohio Publishing. All rights reserved.​

Karen wins Character Award in Eagle Rare competition!

By | Honors/Awards

28338_51c1f11eba64c8.71750715-bigWell friends, the votes have been counted and the judges at Eagle Rare have made their determinations. After months of rallying behind our Founder, Karen Shirk, we are pleased to announce that thanks to your commitment and tireless support, Karen has been selected for the Character Award in this year’s Eagle Rare Life competition!

There were hundreds of entries, and only 7 winning spots. Thanks to 4 Paws having such a loyal and caring extended family, Karen made it through each round of the competition to eventually be named one of the lucky 7! And the award is not only a much cherished honor, it also is accompanied by a $4,000 donation from Eagle Rare!

To read about Karen and the other winners, click here.

Thanks again to everyone who took time to vote, many of whom did so many, many times. You are the ones who made this prestigious honor possible!

Bow winner announced in first raffle!

By | Charity, Fundraising, Service Dog Stories

e212e281-a951-48e5-8479-ee9cdada452fThe Hudkins family, owners of Athens Archery and 4 Paws For Ability alums, contacted us at the beginning of the year with an idea to raise money for our cause! Their selfless act of generosity led to a monthly bow raffle, with proceeds benefiting the 4 Paws building fund. The first month was a great success, and they are now gearing up for the second raffle!

Each month, a bow will be made courtesy of Athens Archery and Jason and Amanda Hudkins (Ashlynn & Alvy Service Dog team December 2013). Winners will be able to choose between the 4 Paws edition or the New Fall Leaves Camo. 

Each bow is worth $800 (retail). Each raffle ticket (it will be a virtual ticket) is $15, which can be purchased here. Buying your raffle ticket on this website is simple, fast, and secure.

The first winner is: Brian Dillow! 

The next monthly contest has begun already, and the next winner will be announced on March 31. 

4 Paws would like to congratulate Brian on his win, and thank the Hudkins for their kindness and support!

Ashlynn and Alvy

Ashlynn and Alvy

Thanksgiving comes early at 4 Paws

By | Charity, Fundraising, Honors/Awards, Miscellaneous

DSC_0010If you work at 4 Paws For Ability, it’s a definite possibility you feel as though Thanksgiving has come early this year.

Why, you might ask? The answer is simple.

We have a support network, or more like an extended 4 Paws family, that is generous beyond compare.

As most of you know, we hosted a gala on October 19th to celebrate our 15th year of service. Our goal was to spend an evening enjoying the company of as many 4 Paws friends as possible, and to raise money towards our building fund. In addition to the food and festivities, the gala also featured a raffle, silent auctions and the unveiling of our revised building plans by HiFive Development. The evening was also paired with a “One Day of Giving” Campaign, where contributions were matched by one of our donors.

The day ended with over $24,000 being collected, and with all of us at 4 Paws giving thanks for our many blessings. Every penny of that generosity gets us closer to our goal of upgrading and expanding our current facility; a necessary goal when attempting to keep pace with demand.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, we have the best fans and friends in the world. Thanks to everyone who donated time and money to make our 15th Anniversary celebration a success, and for helping get us closer to yet another dream coming true.



Below are some pictures of the evening. 


10 Render 7 Render 2 Floor Plan DSC_0032 DSC_0031 DSC_0024 DSC_0027 DSC_0020 DSC_0013 DSC_0010 DSC_0016 DSC_0017 DSC_0008 DSC_0011 DSC_0005 DSC_0002 DSC_0001 DSC_0003

Karen Shirk announced as Top 20 Finalist in Eagle Rare Bourbon Rare Life Contest!

By | Honors/Awards, Miscellaneous

Eagle Rare Bourbon Announces the Top 20 Current

2014 Rare Life Award Nominees

There’s Still Time to Vote for your Favorite or Nominate Someone!


28338_51c1f11eba64c8.71750715-bigFRANKFORT, Franklin County, Ky (Oct. 2, 2013) Eagle Rare Bourbon Whiskey announces the current voting tallies for its 2014 Rare Life Award, an award that recognizes people whose lives embody Eagle Rare’s passion for excellence and demonstrate the epitome of courage, leadership, survival, heroism, devotion and character. With only three months remaining in the nomination process, the votes are very close between each of the top 20 vote nominees so far.  The $40,000 award will be donated to the winner’s charity early next year. 

As of Oct. 1, the 20 nominees who have received the most votes are, (in alphabetical order):


  • Bob Anderson- Decorah, Iowa
  • Andrew Christian- Coleville, California
  • Al Cecere- Gatlinburg, Tennessee
  • Marc Dibernardo- Louisville, Kentucky
  • Ryan Eversley- Morrisville, North Carolina
  • Howard Garrett- Freeland, Washington
  • Marge Gibson-Merrill, Wisconsin
  • Angie Goodwin- Beach Grove, Kentucky
  • Shawn J Gourley- Evansville, Indiana
  • Melissa Jarboe- Chisago, Kansas
  • Mac McQuown- Ocala, Florida
  • Becky Fox Ortyl- St Louis, Missouri
  • Shanda Renee- Paso Robles, California
  • Dr. Peter Sharpe- Avalon, California
  • Karen Shirk- Xenia, Ohio
  • Melissa Smith- Doniphan, Kansas
  • Charles J Stecker JR.- East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
  • Theresa Strader- Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Annette King Tucker-Claremore, Oklahoma
  • Janice Wolf- Midway, Arkansas

Of the 20 top nominees, their stories are varied from topics such as children’s rights, military heroes, saving animals, childhood diseases, and service dogs. What all of the stories have in common though, is their ability to tug at one’s heartstrings.

Kris Comstock, Eagle Rare Bourbon brand manager said, “We continue to be inspired by the nominees and are honored to help an increasing array of charities across the United States. We’re halfway through the voting process and have some great nominations so far.  But there’s still time to nominate someone you think leads a Rare Life, or to vote for your favorite nominee at”

Since nominations and voting began in May of this year, 120 stories have been submitted through Eagle Rare’s website. The Grand Prize award winner will be awarded a $40,000 donation for the charity of their choice. The Grand Prize winner will also receive an awards ceremony in the winner’s home town hosted by Eagle Rare Bourbon and the production of a short testimonial video.

In addition to the grand prize, six others will be selected for each key Rare Life characteristic and awarded $4,000 for the charity of their choice. This is the fourth year for the Rare Life campaign, and the 2014 awards will bring total grants to date for charities to $160,000.

Entries are available to view online at the Eagle Rare website. People can continue to vote for these inspiring nominees through January 7, 2014. At the end of the voting, a Grand Prize Winner and six finalists will be selected from 20 nominees receiving the most votes. Those winners will be announced the week of March 3, 2014.

For more information or to submit a nomination, visit


About Eagle Rare Bourbon

Eagle Rare Bourbon Whiskey is part of the award-winning Buffalo Trace

Distillery, a family-owned company based in Frankfort, (Franklin County), Kentucky. The

Distillery’s rich distilling tradition dates back to 1786 and includes such legends as E.H.

Taylor, Jr., George T. Stagg, Albert B. Blanton, Orville Schupp, and Elmer T. Lee. Eagle

Rare Bourbon is a 10-year-old single barrel bourbon that has won multiple awards,

including five double gold medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. To

learn more about Eagle Rare visit

4 Paws for Ability is once again participating as a CFC (Combined Federal Campaign) charity!

By | Charity, Fundraising, Honors/Awards, Miscellaneous

cfcDear 4 Paws families:

4 Paws for Ability is once again participating as a CFC (Combined Federal Campaign) charity!

For those of you unfamiliar with this program, it was enacted into law by John F. Kennedy as the method of soliciting federal and military employees to allocate a certain dollar amount from their paychecks to give to charities that are thoroughly reviewed and approved by the government. The campaign officially kicks off in September and runs through December 15th.

If you are a federal employee or in the military, please designate 4 Paws. Also, please forward this information to your friends and family who work for the federal government or are in the military to please designate 4 Paws in the CFC campaign this year. Our CFC # is 59894.

This is a nice funding source for us…this year we will be receiving payments totaling $65,000.

Let’s see if we can increase it next year!

Again, our CFC # is 59894, and we are listed under “Animal Charities of America.”

Please spread the word! Thank you for your support.



P.S. 4 Paws is not a United Way affiliated agency; however, we receive donations if people write us in so if your employer participates in United Way, please write us in on your pledge card form and encourage others to do the same. Thank you!

4 Paws For Ability is one of 250 Finalists for Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good Program!

By | Charity, Fundraising, Honors/Awards, Miscellaneous

7_100 Cars For Good Logo4 Paws For Ability is one of 250 Finalists for Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good Program!

4 Paws For Ability is proud to announce we’ve been selected as a finalist in Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good Program. Now we need your support! Mark your calendars and vote for 4 Paws For Ability at on October 28th.

From birth to placement and beyond, our service dogs travel a ton of miles. Whether running out to the field to practice life-saving tracking skills or to venture out as an ambassador for educational forums, our dogs are constantly on the go. If fortunate enough to win, the new Toyota vehicle would be a valuable asset for ensuring safe and reliable transportation!

Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good program will award 100 vehicles over the course of 50 days to 100 deserving nonprofit organizations based on votes from the public. Winning organizations will use the Toyota vehicles to help expand their reach and missions within their communities.

Please support 4 Paws For Ability on October 28th with your vote!

Voting will take place at 



Come meet Little Miss Ohio, Emma Moore, as she fundraises for 4 Paws!

By | Charity, Fundraising, Miscellaneous

IMG_2683Local girl Emma Moore, 9, is a beautiful young lady inside and out, which we’re sure is a big reason why she was named Little Miss Ohio this year!

Emma is a charity-minded girl and spends a lot of her time giving back to the community, including being a volunteer for 4 Paws. Recently Emma expressed an interest in holding a fundraiser for our organization, and the brainstorming began. As most of you know, The Sephora Store at The Greene in Dayton chose us as their charity partner this year and has been selling a cosmetic colletion during the last few months to support 4 Paws. It was quickly decided that the store would be a perfect backdrop for Emma’s generosity, as we celebrate “the beauty of giving”.

Emma is asking people to bring a bag of Pup-Peroni or Beggin’ Strips to the Sephora store on Saturday, September 7 from 1 – 3 PM for 4 Paws to use in training our service dogs. Emma will be available to sign autographs or have pictures taken with those who bring these dog treats that day. We’re told there may also be a guest appearance or two that day by one of our very own service dogs in training, so be sure to stop by!

If you’re in the Dayton area that Saturday, we encourage you to bring a bag of treats and show your support for not only 4 Paws, but also for a young lady who is dedicated to the service of others. 

Thanks again Emma, for your generosity!

Event address:

Sephora on The Greene

4421 Glengarry Dr #126  

Beavercreek, OH 45440

(937) 431-9300

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4 Paws celebrating 15th year and dreaming of even bigger, brighter future

By | Fundraising, Honors/Awards, Miscellaneous

karen-piper2Karen Shirk’s dream from the beginning was to create an opportunity for a large segment of people who were often overlooked or under-served in the service dog industry. Her dream was a big one, but one step at a time she pushed forward and was able to create the organization we know today as 4 Paws For Ability. There were plenty of challenges and endless amounts of hard work, but Karen has always been fueled by a higher purpose.


Her unshakeable commitment is why we are now able to say, “Happy 15th Anniversary 4 Paws!”

And more importantly, her efforts are why we are also able to say, “Congratulations on reaching over 700 service dog placements.” For a non-profit with such a small and humble beginning, that’s a huge achievement – multiplied by the understanding that each individual dog impacts the lives of many from the moment its career begins. It’s a testimony reminding us that just one person can make a huge difference.

To commemorate this joyous milestone will be a gala, held at the lovely Roberts Centre in Wilmington, Ohio on Saturday, October 19th from 6:30-9:30pm. The event will be a chance to bring together the friends, families, staff, supporters and affiliates of 4 Paws in celebration. But like most things done by the organization, the gala will also have a very special purpose – to raise money for its building fund.

Generating the funds for such a large construction project may seem like a daunting goal, but it’s most certainly no match for Karen’s passion. She’s passionate about the renovations because they mean much more than a facelift. The expanded building and upgraded facilities mean the capacity to assist even more people. It’s a level of growth that is much more than a want – it’s a necessity.

The demand for an agency like 4 Paws has always been huge. For years there was an entire community of people denied service dogs or unable to find one with the skills they specifically needed. Over the course of 15 years, 4 Paws has served this community, and in doing so has grown rapidly and garnered an abundance of media attention. Newspapers around the world have spread the word, including large media outlets like The New York Times and CNN. The ever-increasing awareness of 4 Paws For Ability has made it possible for more and more families to find the help they need, but it also means the organization has to work hard to keep up with the increasing demand. It’s a challenge Karen welcomes, but is also the reason a new building is high on the priority list.

Below is a copy of the official gala invitation, which includes details on the event and how to register. If you have any additional questions or would like to know about other ways you can help, please email Updates regarding the evening will be added in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

We hope you can join us for this special occasion as we celebrate 15 years and work towards an even bigger and brighter future!

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