Located in Ipswich, the Service Dog Project, Inc. (SDP), owned by 79-year-old Carlene White and run mostly by volunteers, trains and donates Great Danes to injured and impaired veterans, children, and other recipients.
“Mother Nature blessed me with 23 [Great] Dane pups at once,” White says. “When you have too many lemons, you make lemonade. The Danes work beautifully for stability and balance; it was an easy match. I have always liked training dogs and after 30 years of animals for movies and commercials, I decided to specialize. [Training] seeing eye dogs was too complicated but all these extra Danes I had worked beautifully—and they love the work,” White adds.
Since its inception in 2003, SDP, a 501 (c) (3) charity organization, has donated over 120 service dogs to the mobility impaired, including a 150-pound black-and-white Great Dane named George, who in 2015 was paired up with Bella, a 47-pound, 11-year-old girl with Morquio Syndrome, a crippling disease that forced Bella to use crutches and a wheelchair to get around and rendered her unable to carry anything on her own. But thanks to the support of George, Bella’s gait and stamina have improved so that with George she is now able to walk home from school and go to the mall. And because of this beautiful pairing, George was named the American Kennel Club’s “National Service Dog of the Year” in 2016.
All of SDP’s Great Danes, are heavily laced with genes from Europe for two reasons—White never breeds related dogs and the European bloodlines are a little shorter and heavier than the typical American Show Dane. The difference, White says, can be compared to that of a basketball player versus a football player. “We need football types,” White says. All of the dogs, however, are born, raised, and trained on the farm in Ipswich and monitored 24/7 by staff and/or volunteers. Once fully trained (usually after a year or older), the dogs are matched with a specific recipient and trained to meet that individual’s needs. “As balance dogs, they are taught to be steady in harness and match their gait to the handler’s speed,” according to SDP’s website. “The dogs learn to halt and brace in case the handler should fall and require assistance to stand.”
Additionally, the dogs must learn to concentrate amid lively children and other daily encounters, and they must be able to relax and fall asleep almost anywhere for meetings, movies, lectures, and work. SDP adds that it has a very low percentage of “fabulous failures,” or dogs that are unable to meet the requirements necessary to become service dogs, but in those rare cases the dogs are usually adopted by volunteers at the organization.
Other examples of SDP’s service dogs at work include Brian, who in 2006 was medically retired due to injuries sustained while serving the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, and service dog Crimson, who accompanies Brian on planes and trains during his many travels giving presentations and speaking with other veterans; and Renee and Sir Thomas, who operates as her “passport to a life not dominated by parkinsonism,” as he helps her navigate the wilds of Oregon.
These dogs, White says, offer freedom not only to the recipient but to the caregiver, as well. And although each dog costs $20,000 to raise and train, they are given free of charge to recipients. This is made possible by donations from the public.
“I hope the plans I have made will carry this on [when I retire],” White says. “We have a very capable crew; they’re all specialists in something—from training to laundry management. Steve and Megan [Kokaras] are super trainers and I have one local daughter gainfully employed elsewhere but who is a very capable animal manager. I am sure they will manage.”
To volunteer, please include your name, email, town you live in, and general interest and/or skills in an email to Carlene at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see more of what SDP does, check out the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6wd53xHEfc&feature=youtu.be
Service Dog Project, Inc.
37 Boxford Rd., Ipswich