Girl blows out candles, lends helping hand to 4 Paws

By | Miscellaneous

Birthday party goes to the dogs at 4 Paws 

XENIA, Ohio – What could be better than a birthday party full of puppies? Maybe a girl who, instead of gifts for herself, donates to help those puppies get everything they need to be the best service dogs they can be for children with disabilities who need them.

Self-proclaimed animal lover Sarah MacKenzie, 10, who attends the 4th grade at Summit Academy of Xenia, is a regular volunteer at 4 Paws for Ability with her mom. They’ve been volunteering for three years, helping socialize the puppies.

“My mom and I were at the mall and saw a 4 Paws for Ability dog, and I asked to pet it. I was 7 at the time. When I kept asking for a puppy, my mom thought it would be a good idea to volunteer at 4 Paws for Ability instead.”    

Taking the puppies out into public and giving them lots of love on a regular basis, as a volunteer is how she realized that she needed to do something more to help those puppies that she adored so much.

“I thought they did not have enough toys and treats,” said Sarah, who also said she likes how the dogs are trained to help other kids.

So that’s when the idea hit her. She wanted to have a party for the dogs! It wasn’t just any party, but her own birthday party.

“I invited a lot of my friends, and 12 of my friends and their parents came to the party,” she said.

4 Paws for Ability, in Xenia, was decked out with puppy posters and ‘Happy Birthday’ signs galore. There was loads of pizza, fruit, potato chips and, what else, but sweet puppy-shaped cupcakes.

They enjoyed a game of ‘Put the paw print on the dog’—much like ‘Pin the tail on the donkey,’ she explained.  

After playing Twister, the 4 Paws for Ability staff and volunteers taught Sarah and her fiends how to socialize with the puppies. Which means, they also got the chance to play and cuddle with puppies. They all had a ball, she remembered.

“They were so cute! I loved those puppies!” said the giddy birthday girl.

In keeping with the ‘doggie theme’ Sarah passed out thank-you gifts in, what else, but doggie bags. They were full of dog pencils, dog tattoos, candy, and paw-print stamps. 

Volunteering at 4 Paws for Ability and giving back with her birthday party is special to the 10-year-old philanthropist. She knows how much children with disabilities are just like her in many ways, and how they can thrive with a service dog by their side.

“My good friend Anna was born with two missing fingers on both hands and had to have surgery on her hands several times. She is really nice. I also know a girl in my church fellowship that uses a wheelchair and has a service dog. She is super friendly and gives great hugs.”  

In all, Sarah and her party guests raised, $300 for her favorite place to volunteer and for her favorite puppies to get all the toys and treats to make them the happiest service dogs anywhere!

By Jessica Noll-Korczyk




You can do great things for 4 Paws for Ability just like 10-year-old Sarah MacKenzie, DONATE NOW!

Max, dog in blue

By | Miscellaneous

Police dog Maximilian works hard, serves & protects alongside partner, best friend

LAWRENCE, Ind. – Most police partners will tell you that they are willing to take a bullet for their own in blue, however, some partners come in the canine persuasion and make more than a partner, but also a best friend.

Maximilian aka “Max,” a German Shepherd, has been a dog in uniform, so to speak, for the last five years. He was adopted by Police Officer Mike Clark of the Lawrence Police Department, in Lawrence, Ind. From that moment on, Max took on a role of a lifetime.

“My life has never been the same since I met Max. I cherish every day with him. I thank God every day for 4 Paws for bringing Max and I together,” said Clark. “He is not only a crime fighter, he is my best friend, my protector, my dog.” 

Max got his start at 4 Paws for Ability, as a rescue that Executive Director and Founder Karen Shirk brought into the service dog training facility.

“He started here in training as a service dog, but was going to be too much dog for our clients, so we decided to look for an alternate working placement,” remembered Shirk.

“He was rescued from a shelter, so we knew nothing of his life before 4 Paws. I believe he was a puppy when we got him. I was taken by him and named him Maximilian because I was sure he was going to do something great when he grew up.”

Something ‘great’ was right.

Clark, a police officer for the Indianapolis suburb, has been with the department since June 2005. And in January 2008, his department approved him for being a K9 handler.

“I was tasked to finding a ‘cost-effective’ option in choosing a dog. The average dog for police work costs $7,000 to $10,000,” said the officer.

But that kind of money wasn’t an option for the department. So as an officer, he did what he does best, he investigated and researched for the best he could find at a price they could afford.

After searching and searching, surfing and surfing hundreds of sites, Clark finally ran across 4 Paws for Ability. He sent Shirk an email that day. The next day she responded and told Clark about Max. 

“Being the researcher that I am, I began looking into 4 Paws and what it was all about. After seen Karen’s story and all the videos on YouTube, I knew that this was the place to go.”

After several emails and photos of Max, Clark hopped into his car and made the trek to Xenia, a more than two-hour trip.

Clark and his travel companion arrived late in the morning on Jan. 30, and as soon as they walked inside, staff members and then Karen met with them.

After chatting for a bit, Clark laid eyes on Max, the sturdy German Shepherd.

“I have been a German Shepherd-lover all my life, and when he came around the corner, I was in love with him,” remembered Clark.

Max instantly jumped into his new partner’s lap, and started excitedly liking his face.

“I knew then, that this my boy,” said Clark.

Once he met Max, it was time to meet trainer Jeremy Dulebohn. He showed Clark all of Max’s tricks and commands and even though Clark said his mind was made up from the moment they met, it was now a decision that had no hesitation whatsoever.

“As my visit was coming to an end, the mood changed in the room because the staff realized I was taking him to his forever home.”

After nearly a full bag of Beggin’ Strips and throwing a tennis ball around from one side of the room to the other, the tears started to flow around 4 Paws.

“After all the goodbyes, I promised everyone that Max would be the best-cared for and loved dog they had ever adopted out. As we hit the road and headed home, I knew that I had made the right choice and was already looking forward to what would become of Max and me.”

Max and Clark arrived home later that same day. Clark began introducing his new furry friend to his female German Shepherd, Lucy. While Clark admits to being nervous at the introduction because Lucy isn’t exactly dog-friendly, he took the advice that Dulebohn gave him while at 4 Paws. He introduced them slowly, while wearing muzzles, for safety. After a few days, Clark removed the two dogs’ muzzles and hoped for the best between them. That’s when he said the “real test” began.

“Lucy set the ‘rules’ and after that, Max and Lucy have been attached at the hip ever since. If Max hears a noise by the front door, he has to run and find Lucy so they can bark together. It really is funny. They wouldn’t know what to do without each other,” Clark said of his pair of German Shepherds five years later.

Less than a month after returning to Indiana, Max and Clark started their training with the North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA) for Narcotics Detection.

“Max took to this like a fish in water,” said Clark.

While the two were training with a group that had been together for months, Max quickly became the star of the class.

In June 2008, Max, then 11 months old, and Clark were the first in their training group to become a nationally certified “Narcotics Detection Team.” Trainers in the group raved about Max’s abilities, said Clark.

In fact, he had to turn down countless offers to sell Max.

“I was offered over $7,000 cash for him. There was no was that this would happen. Even though the money was tempting, I didn’t even flinch,” he said of the dog he knew was meant to be his partner in blue on the streets.

Soon thereafter, Max and Clark started their work on the road together, officially as partners for the Narcotics Detection Team.

Max’s primary function is to locate marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine. He is trained to find those odors in cars, lockers, rooms, lockers, containers or in an open outside area. 

Some less serious and much more fun roles that Max plays include public relations. He goes to all parades, neighborhood crime watches and other community events.

“He is the love of the party. People line up to pet him,” said Clark, beaming with pride. 

Five years after adopting and training Max for the K9 unit, they now train the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department K9 unit on a monthly basis and Max is re-certified every year in Narcotics Detection.

Aside from pulling the late shift from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. as the primary on-call K9 team, Max plays a second role as protector. He is Clark’s wife’s sanity when he is not home, he said. And he’s justly rewarded for such roles on his days off.

When Max and Clark are off-duty, Max spends his days lounging around the house, taking up most of the couch, said Clark.

But the dog that fights crime and sniffs out the drugs also sniffs out his one weakness at home… popcorn. And, well, he might just deserve a snack from time to time.

“As soon as my wife puts the bag in the microwave, Max stands with is nose the glass and watches it pop,” said Clark. “At that point, I don’t matter. I can call and call him, wave a tennis ball and he doesn’t budge. He wants his popcorn and that’s all that matters.”

Aside from ignoring Clark when popcorn is in the picture, Max is the officer’s right-hand dog at home and in the cruiser.

“I can’t believe it’s been so long since he became not only my partner, but also my best friend. He is doing well and is the best dog I could ever imagine,” said Clark of Max, who has found more narcotics than you could think of… not counting the $16,533 in drug money he has found.

“I couldn’t be happier.”

-By Jessica Noll-Korczyk

Kudos to LEGO!

By | Miscellaneous

I just got off the phone with LEGO’s Operations Manager for North American Stores regarding our experience at their mall location in NJ. Wow. 

He was very apologetic and took full responsibility for what had happened on Saturday. (If you didn’t see my last post, one of their staff was very confused and challenged Twinkie being in their store–see below.) He told me that he has already been in touch with the specific store manager/staff regarding our experience. I explained that most situations like this are based on confusion, a lack of knowledge and understanding of ADA guidelines and the roles service dogs play in disabilities outside of seeing-eye and mobility assistance; he said that I was 100-percent spot-on and believes that’s exactly what had happened with us. He continued by telling me that our experience was still completely unacceptable and needed to be addressed further as a corporation. I also mentioned that as a corporation, situations like this present an issue for them because staff can very easily and without knowing violate ADA Guidelines, which could present legal issues for LEGO. He appreciated my honesty. 🙂 

The most IMPRESSIVE and IMPORTANT part of our conversation is that he was genuinely happy that I did take the time to complain (although never happy to get complaints) and attached the 2010 Revised ADA SD guidelines. He reviewed them and found them to be quite helpful. He also told me that he has a conference call scheduled with his entire management team this coming Monday and, as a result of our experience, has included a discussion about service dogs in their stores/the link to ADA Guidelines on their meeting agenda. He also has forwarded this information to their compliance team. 

While he continued to apologize for our negative experience, I told him that I certainly appreciated it, but the greatest thing he could do for SD teams like Zachary and Twinkie is to raise awareness within their corporation and help their staff recognize that people with disabilities come in all shapes and sizes and their dogs help them for many things less obvious than mobility assistance and seeing-eye. I applauded his efforts and thanked him for taking my email so seriously. Way to go LEGOs!!! 

-Kristy Mitrow DiVito

 Zach & Twinkie: 4 Paws Luv

Previous post-

I have no issue whatsoever if a store employee approaches us and inquires about Twinkie being in their store. In fact I think it shows great responsibility on the part of the store employee, and we always welcome the opportunity to raise awareness. BUT… I have little tolerance and patience for being approached by someone who has absolutely no idea what they are talking about, obviously is not versed in ADA SD guidelines and repeatedly tells me “pets aren’t allowed” (paraphrase). This happened over the weekend at the LEGO store. Arrrghh. 

What was most interesting is that there were a lot of people in this store since it was a Saturday night, and other staff members and customers knew Twinkie was an SD, so I’m not sure if this kid was just flexing his muscles or was truly that clueless. I do believe that when Zachary laid on floor next to Twinkie and some difficulty modulating his voice 😉 when I told him we were not buying the $100+ LEGO set he “has to have” drove the point home that Twinkie was NOT a pet but indeed a service dog for a child who is very much disabled although he may not seem to be. LOL 

I did send a complaint to LEGO’s customer service to give them a heads-up about my experience. I was so surprised that this happened since we visit this LEGO store whenever we’re at the mall and have never had an issue with anyone. In my complaint, I attached the link to the 2010 Revised ADA Service Animal Guidelines; I do hope they review these guidelines with their staff at this store and all off of their stores.

GOOD NEWS: Update on Bobo & Danielle

By | Seizure Alert, Service Dog Stories

Hi gang!

Photo by Jessica Noll-Korczyk

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and the New Year is starting out great. Ours is awesome!

We love Bobo and he is adjusting very well, considering we have had a house full of company and lots of cooking this season.  He does like to jump on visitors and some think it is okay so we just have to remind them he is not allowed to do that.

I feel sorry for him because he wants to play with the cats and they want no part of him except to tease and torment him. He got slapped the second day and learned his lesson. They are declawed and know they are faster than he is and that he cannot fit under the things they can. Thank goodness he did not try to fit under the Christmas tree. He did try to catch his tail and almost wiped out the tree!

After we got back from training I spent the entire next week at school with him.  He did very well. We had a pep assembly with the band and it was very noisy and lots of traffic. Danielle’s class was in the front row right by the door so we just put him between two wheelchairs so he would not get his tail stepped on.

The second day in class we took the RTA. That was an adventure alone for me.  Poor Bobo. There were three wheelchairs and the bus was pretty full. He just did not have enough room and we were at the front of the bus so he could not really lie down in the aisle. He eventually ended up with his back legs between mine, his front feet on the empty seat next to me and his head on my shoulder!

Photo by Jessica Noll-Korczyk

We then went shopping at Wal-Mart and then lunch at McDonalds. Danielle did have a seizure there but he did not alert us. We then went to the rec center where the kids were going to swim—unfortunately not Danielle because of the seizure. However, she and Bobo lay on a mat outside of the pool area, taking a nap. It was adorable; the two of them snuggled together. We then got on the bus to head back to school and Danielle had another seizure. This time Bobo did bark and the teachers commented it was an entirely different bark than they had heard before.  A bark to alert you something was wrong, almost defensively. Yea Bobo!

Later in the week the kids went to see a movie and Bobo did great. I spilled buttered popcorn on the floor and he did not move. Danielle knew he was on the floor and tried to offer her pop to him! The other students are doing well with him and it seems he will be an asset to the classroom as one student is already in charge of making sure Bobo has water. A couple of them will get to play ball with him at lunch to tire him out as long as they stay on track during the morning. We are doing the red and green bandana on him in the classroom so the students will know if he is working or not. Outside of the classroom other high school students will need to ask Danielle’s permission before they can pet him. This will engage her in conversation and help with the social skills.

Photo by Jessica Noll-Korczyk

The school has been awesome with this entire process. The principal held a staff meeting and we met the teachers and they met Bobo. It was a great opportunity to show them what he can do and answer any questions they may have. They are very receptive to getting some media coverage, which I am excited about so we can also get 4Paws some publicity. School starts again on Monday. I will be taking a day off every week and going to school with Bobo until we are all confident he is ready to be left there by himself with me. The teacher and the two aides have done awesome—very hands-on and wanting him to be there. We are very lucky.

We meet the bus drivers at the end of January because they are bidding on new routes and the supervisor wants to make sure that those who bid on the route Danielle is on will be aware they will have a dog on the bus. The only thing we had to watch at school is that if Danielle is in the kitchen cooking and Bobo is in there with her and she leaves to come out to the table he automatically follows her without being told free. He is doing what he is supposed to but we are working on reinforcing he needs to stay put until he is released.  Our entire experience at 4Paws was awesome. I had no idea of what to expect. Bobo has made a tremendous difference in our lives and family.

My dad is in a nursing home and loves it when we bring Bobo to visit and my mom is on dialysis three times a week and on the days I take or pick her up she wants to know where Bobo is. I have been replaced!

We are teaching him to bark when he hears the seizure mattress monitor go off.

This past week Danielle was in her room playing on her bed, shaking her drumsticks and set off the alarm. Bobo and I were in the kitchen. He heard the alarm go off and ran upstairs but did not bark. We are working on that, just need to practice it more. I believe last evening he scented two seizures. He was obnoxiously licking Danielle and then he just sat in front of her, raised his nose to the ceiling and sniffed. Twenty minutes later she had a seizure. He did it a while later as well. Sat in front of the stove and lifted his nose to the ceiling and sniffed. I thought he was smelling dinner in the microwave. He then went over and licked all over Danielle. Again about 20 minutes later she had one.

Things are settling down where we are now learning his patterns so we will be able to notice different behaviors.

You are all a wonderful team and have touched so many lives. You are all very fortunate to be doing something that is obviously your passion. It shows. You help make miracles and dreams come true!

Peace to all of you!

Kim, Danielle, Mike and Bobo!

Do you have an update you’d like to share since you graduated from 4 Paws? Email it to



N.J. Animal Hospital raises over $2K for 4 Paws

By | Miscellaneous

Mount Laurel Animal Hospital of Mount Laurel, N.J., held its Client Appreciation Open House in September and it brought not only beautiful weather and a nice crowd, but also $2,117.06 to benefit 4 Paws for Ability.

“We truly hope we were able to bring awareness to our clients about the wonderful work 4 Paws for Ability does. We wish a happy, healthy and prosperous year for everyone,” said Pat Lane, COAH Team 2012, in a letter, along with the staff and doctors of Mount Laurel Animal Hospital.

Thank you Mount Laurel Animal Hospital! Your donation makes a difference to children with disabilities in need of service dogs that we provide.


Special note from a special lady

By | Miscellaneous

Photo by Jessica Noll-Korczyk

Thank you, Karen, for letting Bill and I adopt Ester (aka Carly). I would like to thank the trainers, the prisoner trainers, dog care workers, socializers and all who had a hand in Carly’s training and care. She is an exceptional dog. I know that sometimes it may seem a failure or waste of time for a dog that doesn’t make the cut for a service dog.  But I believe that Carly and all of the other dogs that get adopted at 4 Paws are a true success. Since I volunteer at 4 Paws, I have had the pleasure of socializing some of the dogs that didn’t make it. She is a great dog and I’m sure the other dogs adopted have made many families happy.

Carly saved us in a lot of ways.  My mother passed away and two months later my husband had a heart attack and almost died. We had to change our plans to move to Tennessee last summer and we were trying to recuperate and find our way through a very hard, difficult year. My husband’s health was continuing to improve. And then came Carly.  

As you know, Carly was timid and that contributed to why she didn’t make the service dog cut.  She was very timid of environmental things, noises, etc.  One of the reasons I chose her was because I thought she needed a lot of patience, a semi quiet household, and a family that had time to work with her. We were ready for a challenge. It actually took a couple of weeks for her true personality to emerge. She has so much personality. She’s a funny, sweet dog. She makes us laugh, give us unconditional love, and is a great companion to our other golden, Maggie.

 I am currently taking her to obedience class and she is the star of the class. She is so easy to train and that is because of the training she had in prison and at 4 Paws. We are spending a lot of time training and socializing to make her a happy well-adjusted dog.  She has won the hearts of many of our friends and we couldn’t be happier with her. She will be our companion for life. In many ways, she has rescued us. 

If it is possible, I would like someone to express my thanks and appreciation to her trainers and her trainers in prison and let them know that she is doing great and has found her forever home. 

Thanks again to all of 4 Paws. I believe every dog is a success at 4 Paws. I’m also happy to be a volunteer at be a very small part of 4 Paws.  

Thanks again,

Ellen Furlong

4 Paws volunteer


STAR Foster | Elly Organiscak

By | Traditional Puppy Raiser

Elly: Mom teaches, learns

NORTH ROYALTON, Ohio – For Elly Organiscak, it all started with a Google search.

“You will read it and hear it that 4 Paws is magical. It really is…”

After researching service dog agencies, she found her home with 4 Paws for Ability. That’s when she and her family decided to open their home and took in their first foster dog April 25, 2009. He was 5-month-old, yellow Labrador Retriever, Monkey of the Ben and Jerry’s Litter.

Over the next 2 ½ years, 42-year-old Organiscak would foster six puppies from Labs to Papillons.

Beyond that, the Organiscak household includes two of their own rescue dogs, Cabela, a miniature pinscher, rescued from a puppy mill and Sonny, a German shepherd, pulled from a high-kill shelter. But she calls her family, ‘typical.’

“My husband Tim is very supportive of my passion [for dogs] and loves to joke around. He is the ‘social part’ of the relationship I like to say,” said Organiscak.

Aaron is Elly’s oldest at 14 years old, but does not share his mom’s passion for dogs. That bond is with her 12-year-old daughter Hailey.

Her lifelong inspiration has always been her dad, she said, who was born with low vision, losing his sight completely at 3 years old.

“He was a dog lover, but my mom had allergies so we could never have a dog. I always loved dogs and I loved watching the seeing-eye dogs, and always wished my dad could have one,” said Elly.

In the back of her head, she said that she always thought how cool it would be to puppy raise a GED puppy. However, after looking into it, she realized that having a dog for two years would be too much for her family to take on at that time.

“After my dad passed away in 2005, the thoughts kept dancing in my head, and our family came to a time in our lives when it would be possible to follow this dream of mine.”

That’s when she said she Googled service dog agencies and came across 4 Paws for Ability. It was a pawfect match!

“I was intrigued with their short-term fostering. I read all about Karen. I watched her video, [watched] her struggles [and it] reminded me so much of my dad and how much he fought for position in life,” she said. “He was one of the first blind college students to graduate from John Carroll in 1955. In a nutshell, it was something I could do to give back.”

Now, having fostered several service dogs in-training for 4 Paws for Ability, she said those foster dogs have taught her a thing or two as well.

“They have taught me patience!”

And she remembers each and every one of them.

-Monkey, the yellow Labrador Retriever, was so laid back and calm, but look out if a dog walked into the room BAM! out the door play, play, play. We worked really hard on doggie distractions but it was just him he believes all dogs should love him and still does. If there were no dogs around you would have to look for a heart beat. 

-Desi, beautiful Desi. She was my longhaired GSD. She was glued to me and service dog work was just too stressful for her. She just wanted to be your loyal girl and be with you and because of this she ended up in wonderful pet home that loves her dearly. 

-Tye, the golden boy of the clan melted my whole family and he was on track for service dog work. He loved kids and attracted a crowd. He was diagnosed with hip dysplasia and so it was decided that he was to be placed in a pet home. He is a Certified Therapy Dog.

-I was honored to foster Ezekiel, Karen’s own personally bred GSD. He was such an amazing dog. He was confident, calm, obedient and a handsome boy. He is a service dog in Arizona.

-Jubilee lived up to her name. If you have never had a Papillon or you thought, ‘I don’t like little dogs,’ all you had to do is meet her and she would warm you right up. She absolutely loved my husband (who is not a little dog person) and had a huge personality to boot. She was saucy, bossy and demanding. Social butterfly = Jubilee. 

-My last foster was Pirate and I thought I had challenges before. He is keeping me on my toes. While he didn’t make the cut as a service dog, he has found his furever home.

-My present foster is Clank, a Golden Retriever puppy.

Each personality is unique and precious to her. But with as many dogs that she has fostered, giving them back to 4 Paws for Ability so that they can receive their training to ultimately become a much-needed service dog, never gets any easier for her.

“I miss them and I would be lying if I said I don’t cry. I always cry,” she said. “I cry because I will miss them. I cry because I know they are going on. My family just shakes their head and says, ‘Oh mom.’”

“You think it will be easier after you have fostered so many, but each of them leave a permanent mark in your heart and ‘goodbyes’ are very hard.”

However, when Elly sits among other families and foster homes and volunteers at 4 Paws for Ability during class graduation, it makes all those tears turn from sadness to sheer joy.

“[It’s] totally serine, but it makes me feel complete inside,” said Elly, who just recently watched Jubilee aka JuJu Bean, a seizure-alert Papillon, graduate in December with her boy Joel.

Knowing that she has given a home to a dog who will be such an amazing animal is like no other feeling, she said. It’s the best part of fostering.

“I don’t think it is something you can explain. It is something you have to experience for yourself. When I see pictures of my foster dogs in their homes with their families my heart just beams with pride, sometimes I just stare at their pictures and tears of happiness stream down my face.”

On the other hand, it’s also hard when she finds out one of her foster pups didn’t make the cut as a service dog.

“When I get that e-mail I just cry, it breaks my heart. Jennifer has told me every dog is a success, but when you foster you have that goal in your mind, you dream of your foster dog kissing their partner. You dream of who they could be with and what they will do you never dream they won’t make it as a service dog.”

These dogs who Elly fosters, training them to be more social and comfortable around people and public spaces, have essentially taken her out of her own shell. A once self-proclaimed anti-social person now joins other dog-friends on Facebook and is constantly planning her next social outing with her foster dog.

Fostering for Elly has helped her just as much as she helps these dogs.

Photos & story by Jessica Noll-Korczyk


*To help us place seizure dogs like Jubilee, DONATE NOW.

Paw of the Class: Joel & Jubliee, furever friends

By | Miscellaneous

XENIA, Ohio – It was love at first sight as Founder, Executive Director and Papillon-lover, Karen Shirk made her way to then 12-year-old Joel Wilcox with his new furry, four-legged best friend Jubilee, better known as JuJu Bean, his new seizure-alert dog, on the first day of the December’s Holiday Hounds class.

The tiny dog’s tail wagged. She knew instantly that Joel’s arms would be her fur-ever home. And so did his mom Amy Wilcox. 

“When he leaned down and kissed her little nose, I knew.”

And what happened next, truly sealed the deal for this mother of three.

After their joyous introduction, Amy, Joel and JuJu Bean were standing in the middle of the training room floor talking to Karen. Keeping an eye on Joel out of the corner of her eye, Amy said that she saw him stumble. She moved swiftly toward him and caught him from falling. JuJu Bean got right in there, she said, licking his face. 

In that moment, she said it was just “awesome, just awesome. It’s what we came for.” 

Over the next 11 days while at 4 Paws for Ability, training with JuJu Bean, she said that the tiny little dog

with a powerful nose has alerted her nearly 22 hours ahead of time of a oncoming seizure, 3-4 times. That brought tears to her eyes.

“I know how much that means to us. It give us control over something that is out of control,” she said.

The Wilcox family, of Blacklick, Ohio, is currently fostering JuJu Bean’s uncle Ghost, another Papillon.

They started looking into obtaining a service dog for Joel, who has had seizures from epilepsy since he was 7 years old, when they were at a Cincinnati hospital and met Hannah and Blitzen. Blitzen, a 4 Paws for Ability service dog was on Hannah’s bed, never leaving her side while she was in the hospital, said Amy.

Within 15 minutes, she said she knew everything that she needed to know about 4 Paws for Ability and knew this was something she wanted to do for her son. Within a month and a half, the Wilcox family raised $13,000.

Joel, who used to play football and basketball, started having what Amy calls “zone-out” spells, staring off into space. The first time he zoned out, Amy said she thought he was just ignoring her. He walked inside the house with mud on his shoes after she had just cleaned the kitchen floor and she said something to him and he just stared straight ahead.

“What are you doing?” she asked him. But he stared off, smiling and walked in circles.

Those staring spells started turning into more intense seizures. He started having tonic-ionic compulsing-type seizures nearly every half hour—between 25-40 every day. They spent numerous days and nights in the hospital and tried about 20 different medications. Their last stint was in August when he was in a Memphis, Tenn., hospital for eight days.

His mom said that seizure medications turned into panic attacks at school from the anxiety that another seizure may occur. His anxiety came home with him as well.

On more times than one, he ran out of his room at night terrified because the medicine that he was on made him feel like someone was after him, his mom recalled.

At one point, he had a seizure on the stairs in a hotel. Luckily Amy was there to catch him. As a result, he has been homeschooled since the 6th grade and wears a helmet to play outside.

“It’s just that one fall… that’s all it would take,” she said fearing what could happen to her son if she hadn’t been there to catch him during his seizure.

“I want him to be independent, to be 13 again,” said Amy, who said that Joel and his 14-year-old brother Alex, who used to be close, have drifted apart because of his seizures.

The medications “tore them apart,” she remembered. When they were little, the two brothers would do everything together, go everywhere together while holding hands. They are just 19 months apart and were “best buds.” But when one of them drools for 14 hours a day on certain medications, it just drove a wedge between them, she said.

“I just want him to be ‘Joel.’”

For the last six weeks, he’s been on new medication that seems to have improved his paranoia and seizures. And with the addition of little JuJu Bean, Amy said that she hopes even more improvement will be on the horizon.

“[She] will give us peace of mind,” said Amy, especially at night while he is sleeping.

And she hopes that finally, it will bring her family closer again, including her youngest, Ava, 11, who has received less attention from her parents due to Joel’s medical condition.

Amy said that she wants to plan things they can all do together outdoors, traveling, camping—things that up until now she hasn’t felt comfortable even thinking about.

“If we can all relax again, maybe it will build the relationships back up.”

JuJu Bean will go to school w

ith Joel once he returns to mainstream school. And since stress is a big trigger for his seizures, Amy said that she hopes that having JuJu Bean by his side will calm him and help him make friends again, give him the confidence that he needs.

“[It will] open a lot of doors for him.”

Doors like playing the sports he loves again, as well as allowing Amy the security “let go” a little bit more.

Joel became a teenager while at 4 Paws and that, his mom said, was the best birthday present ever.

“4 Paws more than met my expectations. It’s just incredible.”


Photos and article by Jessica Noll-Korczyk


*To help us place seizure dogs like Jubilee DONATE NOW.

4 Paws @Big Blue

By | Miscellaneous

LEXINGTON, Ky. – As the brightly colored autumn leaves wisp passed the busy, bustling students on their way across campus to their next lecture, some students at the University of Kentucky are taking a moment to say ‘goodbye’ to those who became best friends to them throughout the fall semester.

Smiles and tears cannot be contained as these young co-eds’ hearts are breaking for the better good of their recently made furry best friends. They kneel down and wrap their arms around them, squeeze them tight, pet the top of their heads, look them in the eye and kiss their nose.

One student tells her dog, “Be a good service dog for your boy or girl, OK?” with a tear rushing down her face, quickly followed by a few more, as she lifts her Golden Retriever foster up and into the van that 4 Paws for Ability trainer Jessa Brown has brought to retrieve the dogs for further training in Xenia.

Seventeen UK students spent their first semester in the 2012-13 school year, fostering 12 4 Paws for Ability service dogs in training, but now the semester was coming to an end, as was their newly found companionship.

Caitie Little, a senior animal science/pre-veterinarian major, says goodbye to Pretzel, a chocolate Labrador Retriever among her fellow students. But this isn’t her first time.

Little, 21, who heads up the UK Paws on Campus Program for 4 Paws for Ability, has fostered five dogs throughout her collegiate career. It never gets easier to say goodbye though. As they have a moment before leaving each other, 9-month-old Pretzel, who dons a pink collar, lays on her back with her legs up as Little rubs her belly. She knows it’s her last day as a college pup.

Knowing that she is helping children with disabilities have the life they deserve makes this bittersweet moment a little more palatable for Little.

“It’s for a great cause. I’m obsessed with dogs,” said Little, who has about five more years of school before becoming a veterinarian. “Its most rewarding part is watching them graduate—seeing what a big difference they make.”

“I love seeing pictures, to see how they’ve progressed, and how the child and dog are connecting. It makes me happy.”

But it’s been a busy semester for dogs like Pretzel. The Campus Program, Paws on Campus gives them the chance to socialize and continue their performance training after their stint in the 4 Paws prison program, Mission Pawsible™.

At college, they go everywhere with their foster student, from class to the store, to the dorm room and everywhere in between. The students understand exactly what they’re providing to the children of 4 Paws.

“The program as a whole provides such a good service to those who need the dogs. I think there is no better way to have a dog while at school because one day they’ll make a child as happy as they made me and offer them so much more,” said Quinn Bragg, another UK foster student to Fantasy, a Golden Retriever.

After they leave campus, they’ll return to 4 Paws for more training and some will return to prison for further training. Some, however, will be ready for an upcoming class after extensive one-on-one training with the trainers at 4 Paws for Ability. Trainers like Brown, who is the director of the Campus Program and has seen many tears shed by foster students in her time at 4 Paws.

“It’s not only awesome for the dogs to have so much intense socialization, confidence, but just as equally is so awesome for the students,” she said about the program that got its start at Wittenberg University near Dayton, Ohio, in 2008. Logan Bright attended Wittenberg, then transferred to UK and started the program in Lexington in 2009.

“[These students] donate their time, effort and love” to the dogs, said Brown.

For the students, it gives them not only a good resume booster, but teaches them responsibility while living on their own for the first time as well as social skills and confidence of their own.

Students like Bragg, a 20-year-old double major in business analytics and management and a dog lover, learned a lot, especially about the hardship of saying goodbye. A photo of her hugging Fantasy can be seen on the 4 Paws for Ability Facebook page’s cover photo. It was a moment that she won’t soon forget.

“Giving them back was the most difficult part of the whole experience because over the course of the semester it is very difficult not to get attached.”

“[It was] more emotional than I anticipated! It was extremely difficult not to get attached over the course of the semester, and I wish I could keep Fantasy, but we all know going into it that that is not the case, so to an extent we prepare ourselves beforehand.”

That struggle for her was worth the tears shed, realizing the end result for Fantasy.

“Knowing that I helped train a dog that will one day help a little kid with everyday tasks and love them unconditionally is the most rewarding. It’s hard knowing you’ll have to give the dogs up but with this reminder in the back of my head, it made it OK,” said Bragg. 

Being a foster student to Fantasy has changed Bragg for the better. Not only did her fostering help Fantasy learn the tools of responsibility, but it also allowed Bragg to pick up a few new tricks as well.

“I’ve always thought of myself as a responsible person but training and taking care of a puppy on your own 100 percent of the time is definitely a test of that and made me a more responsible person because I wasn’t just taking care of myself anymore.”

“I’ve also learned to be more patient, the puppy won’t always do what you ask and what you expect of him/her so patience is key because they’re smart and eventually they do get it. I also thought more about who this is benefitting and it definitely made me more appreciative of what I have, the life I live, and the fact that I get to train the dog to help someone else rather it being the other way around.”

The option to stay in touch with whomever the family is who ends up Fantasy is what she hopes will happen, said Bragg.

“It is nice because I feel we put a lot of time, hard work, and devotion towards these puppies and it’s very hard giving them up so the reassurance that they’re doing their job well and are happy makes up for the loss we feel giving them back.” 

Photos and story by Jessica Noll-Korczyk

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Photo Gallery: UK says, ‘Goodbye’