NEADS (Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans)
NEADS (Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans) began in 1976 as The Hearing Ear Dog Program, on the Lenox, Massachusetts campus of Holliston Junior College. With seed money from the Medfield Lions Club, students in the Animal Care Program determined that hearing dogs could be trained to become "ears" for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. In 1987, after training over 400 hearing dog "teams," The Hearing Ear Dog Program expanded to train service dogs to become the "arms and/or legs" for people with physical disabilities. In 1989, to reflect these new services, The Hearing Ear Dog Program changed its name to New England Assistance Dog Services (NEADS). NEADS began the Prison PUPs Partnership in 1998, in which prison inmates foster and train service dog puppies for one to two years. In 2000, NEADS expanded its services to include the training of social facilitated therapy dogs trained to assist children living with autism. In 2006, NEADS began a specialty program for injured soldiers returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through their Canines for Combat Veterans program. The organization now resides on an 18-acre (73,000 m2) campus in Princeton.
NEADS uses both purebred and rescued dogs for its program. In partnership with several local animal shelters, homeless and abandoned dogs are selected for aptitude, temperament and ability, and are trained by NEADS staff to become hearing dogs. NEADS also purchases and receives donated purebred dogs from breeders. These puppies are trained via a multi-step process: the puppies begin socialization at the Laura J. Niles Early Learning Center, are trained in the Prison PUP Program, and are returned to the NEADS campus to receive advanced training.
Prison PUPs Program
The NEADS Prison PUPs Program was started in 1998. NEADS partners with 10-15 correctional facilities throughout New England, where inmates train the dogs for one to two years. As early as 16 weeks, puppies live, train, and bond with inmates. NEADS trainers visit the facilities once a week to teach the inmates how to train their puppies, and to monitor progress.
The prison pups spend weekends with volunteer "weekend puppy raisers," who educate the dogs about the outside world by taking the dogs with them everywhere they go: to the movies, grocery shopping, and experiencing general socialization.
Dogs are taught over 70 commands in two years. They learn how to pick up keys, open doors, provide physical stability for their handler, and open and close the refrigerator, among other tasks. The cost to the organization to train each dog is around $30,000.
Balance/walker, Classroom, Hearing, Ministry, Service, Social, Social facilitated therapy and Specialty
Between 1976 and 2009, NEADS placed more than 1,500 assistance dogs nationwide in the following categories:
- Classroom dogs are paired with social workers, therapists, and teachers who work with children who have physical, emotional or developmental disabilities. They are integrated into the educational curriculum as motivators and serve as an innovative teaching tool for the children.
- Hearing dogs are trained to alert handlers to a ringing phone, an alarm, a knock at the door, and the sound of the handler's name. Dogs are trained to bring the handler back to where the sound originated.
- Ministry dogs are placed with a minister in a church setting or a chaplain in an institutional setting. The dog accompanies the minister in his or her duties including visiting those in hospitals, nursing homes or private residences, conducting worship services, greeting parishioners, and attending meetings and day-to-day activities in the community.
- Service dogs are trained to retrieve things that drop or items from shelves and other hard-to-reach places; open refrigerator and other doors; push elevator buttons; turn light switches on and off; carry items in their mouths or backpacks; pull wheelchairs up ramps or short distances; and go get help should their partner need human assistance.
- Social dogs are trained to assist a therapist or counselor in settings such as nursing homes, halfway houses and psychotherapy centers.
- Social facilitated therapy dogs are trained to assist children and adults who can benefit from the therapeutic value of a dog, but are not able to assume total responsibility for its care and training. A third-party facilitator (parent, guardian or PCA) will help with the dog's daily needs and assist in public situations.
- Specialty dogs are trained to help people who have more than one disability.
Canines for Combat Veterans
The first Canines for Combat Veterans service dog, Rainbow, was placed in 2006 with Sergeant Roland Paquette, an Afghanistan war vet who lost both his legs. Rainbow was trained by an inmate at the Northeast Correctional Center. According to The Landmark, "NEADS dogs serve as walker dogs when the veterans are ambulatory and walking with their prosthetics. They provide balance when walking, going up and down stairs, and getting up from a sitting or fallen position. When the veterans remove their prosthetics and transfer to wheelchairs the dogs then go into service mode. They assist by picking up dropped items, retrieving articles and turning lights on and off." In addition to all the tasks that service dogs provide, some veterans report that they discover newfound confidence through their canine companions as well.
- NEADS Website
- "Prison Pups." Dog's Life Magazine, Summer 2009. pp 16-19.
- "Going to the Dogs: Prison-based Training Programs are Win-Win" Corrections Today, August 2009.
- "Haskell has fitting namesake," Telegram.com, 10/2/08
- "2 Puppies Report for Duty at R.T. Veterans Home to be trained to assist disabled vets" Providence Journal.
- "Assistance dogs give help hearing impaired." NJ.com, 26 October 2009
- "Trained by Inmates, New Best Friends for Disabled Veterans," The New York Times, 31 October 2006
- "A Soldier's Best Friend" The Landmark, 30 August 2007