The Canine Connection: Group’s Work with Special Assistance Dogs Inspires Foothills Toyota to Help
February 07, 2012
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Show Me the Money -- Ben (right) retrieves a receipt from an automated teller machine for his companion, Chris Blanchard. Summit Assistance Dogs' students spend more than two years in training to develop the skills needed to assist people living with disabilities.
When Summit Assistance Dogs learned it had emerged as the winner of a 2011 Prius in Toyota’s “100 Cars for Good” program, it was definitely a feel good moment. Then Foothills Toyota stepped in, bumping it up to the level of feel great.
The Burlington, Wash., dealer not only delivered the vehicle to the Anacortes, Wash.-based non-profit organization, it sweetened the deal with a $2,500 check that was doubled to $5,000 thanks to the Toyota Dealer Match program. Also, as with all of the vehicles donated through “100 Cars for Good,” the Prius came with a factory-backed service contract that extended the warranty coverage on the Prius to six years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.
“It was a complete surprise,” says Erik Mann, development associate at Summit Assistance Dogs. “The check will cover two years’ worth of gasoline, based on the mileage we’ve been getting with the Prius. The Toyota Care coverage (standard on all new Toyota vehicles) means we won’t have to pay for maintenance for two years. And, the service contract means we won’t have to worry about repair costs for some time to come. We were absolutely overwhelmed by Toyota’s generosity.”
In truth, the powers that be were simply overwhelmed by Summit Assistance Dogs’ impact on those in need in their community, compelling them to respond.
Maximum Impact -- Foothills Toyota Dealer Principal Pam Nelson (left) and Portland Region District Manager Tony Arellano (right) present a check for $5,000 to Sun Meinzinger, founder and executive director of Summit Assistance Dogs. Nelson took advantage of the Toyota Dealer Match program, available to all Toyota dealers, to double the amount of the donation.
The organization’s mission is to locate, train and deploy highly skilled mobility, hearing and professional therapy dogs that can assist people living with disabilities. These special dogs help their human partners live more independently by performing tasks such as opening and closing doors, picking up items and alerting their owners to the sound of a smoke alarm. Perhaps even more importantly, the clever canines help boost their owners’ emotional well being through companionship and unconditional love.
Even the training process is inspirational. At any one time, the organization has up to 40 dogs at different stages in their education. All start under the tutelage of volunteers who house the dogs for up to 18 months and teach them basic obedience skills. Then they are transported to the Monroe Correctional Complex in nearby Monroe, Wash., where they are paired with inmates who have been specifically selected to advance their training. That’s when the dogs learn how to do such things as turn light switches on and off, open and close doors, retrieve objects and serve as a physical support to owners who might otherwise need mechanical walkers. Not surprisingly, the inmates also benefit from the interaction.
Encouraged by the success of this creative partnership, Summit Assistance Dogs is establishing a similar relationship with Joint Base Lewis-McChord that serves the Army and Air Force. The plan is to match dogs with war veterans, especially those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Prius is playing a key role in facilitating this work. Before the arrival of the fuel-efficient hybrid, Summit Assistance Dogs relied on a full-size 15-passenger van as well as volunteers’ personal vehicles to transport the dogs and their gear. In a typical week, the organization makes three to four trips to Seattle or Monroe of over 100 miles each. The fuel cost with the van, which gets just 8 mpg, was about $100 per trip. With the Prius and its EPA-estimated combined 50 mpg, it’s just $15.
Summit Assistance Dogs considered requesting a Sienna when it learned it would receive a vehicle. But the versatile Prius proved to be a better fit.
Sock It to Me -- Jackson (right) helps 7-year-old Taysen Langstraat remove his socks. These clever canines extend their owners’ reach, making it possible for them to live more independently. But the dogs’ greatest gift is continuous companionship and unconditional love.
“We realized that most of the time we have one to two people and one to two dogs, which the Prius can handle easily,” says Mann. “Once, though, we made a presentation on Microsoft’s campus and had to pack three puppies in crates, collapsible play yards, display boards, dog gear and two people. We were blown away that we could get all of that stuff in that little car.”
Along the way, the experience has raised Summit Assistance Dogs’ profile in the community. That’s due in part to the organization’s ambitious word-of-mouth marketing campaign that likely generated the votes to claim the Prius. But it’s also due to a TV ad produced by Foothills Toyota that tells the group’s heartwarming story.
“The more we learned about them and their mission, the more we wanted find ways to support them,” says Pam Nelson, dealer principal at Foothills Toyota. “We are extremely honored to play a role in helping Summit Assistance Dogs change the lives of the many people—and dogs—they serve.”
By Dan Miller