Assistance Dogs of the West
Desert Academy students are paired with one of our dogs in training and are lead by an ADW Instructor/Trainer to help socialize the dog and train the tasks the dog will need as a professional assistance dog. From this foundation, we build in specific activities and lectures that help the various student trainers towards achieving their goals. Student trainers gain self-advocacy and learn soft job skills such as consistency, being on time and being prepared. Roughly half of the student trainers’ time is spent training our assistance dogs; the other half is spent focused on highlighting the generalizable skills they practice while training the dogs: clear communication, patience, persistence, taking initiative, problem-solving, empathy, teamwork, and leadership.
ADW has provided this popular in-school student training program to Desert Academy for more than 20 years. Each May, the Desert Academy Student Trainers participate in a formal graduation ceremony where they officially present the dog to their recipient and speak about the process of training that dog and what it meant to them personally. We are very proud of our Desert Academy Student Trainers, and all that they accomplish throughout their time training our dogs.
Natalie Longmire-Kulis served as our Youth Board President, a distinction that is earned through years of committed work to our student-training program and the unanimous vote of her peers on the Youth Board. She has become an effective communicator and leader, who knows how to Seize the Day and make things happen for her life…and our agency. She is a great mentor to the younger members as well. With our MC Ali McGraw, Natalie introduces our student trainers and their dogs during our formal annual graduation. She speaks with great aplomb and confidence.
A particular self-directed project is the Teen Court program, where Natalie approached me to bring a Courthouse Facility Dogs in training to the project. We worked together with the Teen Court coordinator until Natalie gained the required skill to handle a dog in the capacity of providing support to the teen offenders who were on trial. I particularly want to note that Natalie gave up her opportunity to prosecute in order to handle the dog for Teen Court. She has done a great job, and because of our relationship with Teen Court, ADW was able to arrange training sessions in the Courthouse for our FBI handlers who will be using one of our dogs in a Federal Case. She paved the way for an entirely new area of Facility Dog work. Natalie attributes her winning the prestigious Coca Cola Scholarship on her development of the relationship between ADW and Teen Court.