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Yes, we assistance dogs from the Helppes non-profit organization are proud of the skills which you have taught us. Even around midnight we can lend a helping paw. Thanks to us, the long-haired and short-haired partners, people with physical and mental disabilities can lead a better life, or professionally speaking, we help their integration into daily life.

But of course, we wouldn’t be able to do this without the respected non-profit organization, which is considered both here and throughout the world as the Dog University. During its existence, a whopping 214 specially trained dogs have successfully graduated, and are assisting individuals with various types of disabilities. For the newly graduated canine helper, 22 potential masters await. Let’s come and see how it goes with us.

WE’RE BITING INTO OUR WORK

It’s early in the morning and the sunshine slowly washes us over our coats. Our alma mater, the Helppes training center in the Motol neighborhood of Prague, wakes up. What awaits us today, just like every day? First, we go for our walkies, then we clean our ears, eyes, and teeth, followed by scratching, or more precisely, the indispensable examination of our skin and coats, and a possible manicure. In short, everything needs to be healthy, including our nails. And “Hooray!” for the morning part of training, which is followed up with an afternoon session, after walks and games, of course.

Before we scatter to our dinner dishes, we manage to squeeze in more relaxing exercise on Gymballs, running on the treadmill, swim training in the local pool, and last but not least, games which increase our canine intelligence. This isn’t just an easy program. In the evening we go out for more walks in the fresh air and then lay down in our beds.


  

Our trainer Tatsiana Auramava says:

“Everything we do is targeted. The dog must not only be able to cope with tasks that the client needs to improve their lives, but also learn to behave properly while dressing, grooming, bathing, and so on. With IQ games, we are attempting to reach a point where the client can play by themselves with their canine charge in the context of shared activities, which are fun for both sides, and develop fine motor skills, speech skills, observation, or concentration depending on client’s type of disability.”

ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF— MY NAME IS TOBI

I’m a border collie, fresh from the breeder and I’m practicing here at Helppes for Matěj. He’s a 9 year old boy with autism spectrum disorder and needs me in his life. We’re currently located in this spacious obile home, which simulates the environment of an apartment in order to get used to a home environment. Today, I will learn how to open and shut cabinets. My canine colleagues have already passed this complex exercise. We’ve gradually mastered the basics of assistance such as: passing and bringing everyday objects of various sizes, shapes, and materials; opening doors; bringing things TO another person or a designated place; bringing things FROM another person; removing and carrying things out of the refrigerator, closets, drawers, and washing machine; opening drawers, doors, the fridge, washing machine, and so on.

 

Tobi

How long will I be at this? The trainer says probably 8-9 months. I hear it gets challenging in all directions, particularly in terms of financial matters. The average cost of my training is 230 000 CZK, and that’s no small change. People who apply for us assistance or signal dogs are dependent on their own savings or the help of donors.

Who supports this? Among the supporters and sympathizers of the Helppes center are famous Czech celebrities as well as unknown dog lovers and philanthropists.

And I, Tobi, am happy, that I am supported by great people, who work in the ŠKODA company. The collection of money raised with the help of employee contributions is based on a combination of Payroll Giving and Matching. I nosed around and it seems that it is possible to contribute any amount to 6 internally-selected non-profit organizations in the form of payroll deductions and the company will double the contribution. Thanks to this program of corporate and social responsibility from ŠKODA, 4 canine helpers from Helppes are already in service, and another 2, myself and Break-a-Leg, will soon be going to where they need us.

HELP COMES ON 4 PAWS

You ask am I, a border collie, the best at training? Certainly not! The best here are retrievers and their hybrids. And of course, here and there you’ll find a Schnauzer, poodles, and other varieties of terriers. Training here doesn’t depend on breed, but rather on our character and individuality. Our training assistant, Eva Orel, gladly explains:

“A candidate for canine assistant must not have any hints of aggression, must not be fearful, skittish, too much of a barker, and should not have any hints of hunting instincts. Instead, they need to be wonderfully adaptable, friendly, empathetic, must be balanced and peaceful in nature, and have a great desire to communicate and work with people. We receive our dogs from certified breeders and coworkers, but also from shelters and advertisements.”

Yeah, there are even canine comrades here, who are allowed to train directly with their masters for special needs. But they need to meet the same training requirements that we do, the pros from the kennels. Take for instance Fanny, the little Biewer Yorkshire who belongs to Mrs. Martina, who suffers from diabetes. At Helppes Fanny learned in time to alert her mistress to dangerous drops in blood sugar levels as well as helping her mistress ward off or cope with impending hypoglycemic attacks. Who else would have barked all the way to Yorkshire, eh?

Helppes is simply full of great canine athletes, and size truly does not matter. What is important is the taste of helping. And we’re always hungry for that. And why shouldn’t we be? We have such wonderful assistants and trainers, and most of all you and your contributions. For that, you deserve a big bark and around of all paws.

Fanny

4 questions for Zuzana Daušová, Director of HELPPES

Is it true that you raised one of the first “assistance” dogs in the world?

I’ve had dogs since 1974, when I first began to actively devote myself to sport cynology. My grandmother was in a wheelchair, and because I was a lazy teenager who was annoyed by her constant requests for me to bring her something, I taught her former sheepdog Teddy how to do that. He was a strong, hefty dog, and so I trained him to help me even when I was pushing my grandmother and in her wheelchair up a hill. That same Teddy was actually partially an assistance dog, I realized after 25 years. Nevertheless, the official history of training assistances dogs began in 1975 in the United States.

Do you take your work home? What do you think about when you fall asleep?

What I do isn’t really work, but more of a mission, which fuses with you and during work hours isn’t something you play around with. But I know what you’re asking about. Often I think about how amazing it feels when we are able to establish a change that improves children’s and adults lives for the better with our canine students. For example, when someone who is in a wheelchair — and was not able to give a handshake during the first meeting due to weak muscles — can warmly

shake hands after half a year with a dog simply thanks to the fact that they have been serenely practicing with their fine motor skills. Or, someone who has autism, who spent their first meeting with us at a great distance, comes for a visit and the first thing they will do is give the trainer of their dog a hug and with their four-legged partner as an escort, calmly heads into the city centre or a rock concert. Or when the mother of a diabetic child thanks you because, thanks to their canine helper, they can easily sleep through the night after many years… these are the moments that are difficult to describe.

Is there anything in connection with HELPPES that sticks in your craw?

Unfortunately, yes, mainly in relation to our “Helppesers”. People often actually believe that an assistance dog is public property which they can touch at any time without permission, and they don’t realize that it’s the same as someone reaching into their bag or rummaging through their pockets. I’m also annoyed by all those who believe that an assistance or a guide dog is a poor wretch with a sad expression on their face, who is merely trudging along beside a sight-impaired person or someone in a wheel chair. How else would they be able to perform their duties? By jumping, barking, or running around in circles? A well brought up dog, let alone an assistance dog, wouldn’t do that. The “sad” face is actually the face of concentration.

 

Most of what the canine helpers regret, and that people don’t realize, is that the dog’s services are only a small part of the day, and more over, their mission is a completely normal part of the dog’s life.

And the third thing that bothers me, actually really pisses me off, is when someone - without asking! - gives the assistance dog something to eat. A sight-impaired person often has no chance to catch this, not to mention the fact that this gift to the dog of a piece of sausage can cause health problems, or problems with the government or the life of the dog, and in the best case, often leads to hospitalization at the veterinarian.

 

And what are the positions of assistance and guide dogs with the state?

We are fighting tooth and nail and we are already breaking through the ice here and there. Over the last few years we have striven to improve access rights and reduce discrimination against people who use these specially trained dogs to compensate for their handicap. We have managed, at least, to anchor access rights of assistance and guide dogs to the law on health services and public health protection. It should allow people with disabilities and their canine helpers access to all healthcare facilities, including spas and catering facilities. Unfortunately, in practice, health care workers often violate the law because they don’t know it. This leads to absurd situations where a person with an assistance dog

is welcome at the dentist, for example, but their general practitioner throws them out of his office, or the hospital porter starts yelling at the dog’s owner “get this mutt out of here!” An even more, not all disabilities are visible ones— if someone starts to scream at a person with epileptic, diabetic, or cardiac disabilities, or autism and starts trying to greatly limit their rights, this could have dire results in the form of a deterioration of the disabled’s health, bring on an epileptic fit, or provoke a panic attack for a person with autism, and so on. To improve the position of people who use assistance or guide dogs as helpers, we are also engaging in the context of creating European-wide norms and sincerely hope that one day there will not be any access problems for people with disabilities anywhere regardless as to whether or not they need their canine helpers.