Service Dogs Alabama (SDA) is the oldest and largest non-profit in Alabama serving both veterans and children with disabilities. Their services range from providing medical and psychiatric service dogs to children, adults, and veterans with disabilities, to offering facility intervention dogs for schools and courtrooms.
Since its inception in 2010, more than 80 highly trained canines have been placed with qualified individuals and facilities. The non-profit’s programs address a wide range of needs, from dogs who support veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to canines trained to help individuals with diabetes, seizure disorders or autism.
“We exist to find solutions to today’s most significant problems by training dogs to assist in tasks that change lives,” explains Frances McGowin, the group’s executive director and CEO. “These skilled dogs have a powerful effect on the independence, confidence, security, physical health and psychological stability of the individuals and groups that they serve.”
But it’s not just these clients who benefit. SDA partners with a local correctional facility for much of the dogs’ training. Through this program, inmates are paired with a dog and assume responsibility for its care and training. Frances says those who participate in the program gain valuable new life skills, from teamwork and compassion to increased self-control and anger management. Perhaps most importantly, they’re given a sense of purpose.
“Animals have the ability to reach individuals in ways people can’t,” explains Marty Turnage, a long-time volunteer with SDA. “The loyalty and trust that develops between an individual and an animal is unprecedented and pure.”