PAALS Serves People with Disabilities One Paw at a Time

Dori Tempio couldn’t imagine her life without Casper – the loyal, four-legged companion who changed her life for the better. With Casper by her side, she is able to pursue a career, travel and live independently. Now inseparable, the two were first united when Dori began volunteering at Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services (PAALS) after moving to Columbia eight years ago.

PAALS is a nonprofit committed to empowering children and adults with physical disabilities and social needs by providing them with assistance dogs and hosting animal-assisted educational and recreational activities. The organization trains animals to aid people with varying disabilities to enable them to live more independent and enriched lives. In addition to providing animal assistance, PAALS also offers programs for underserved youth, seniors and individuals with special needs through the service dog training process. Puppies-in-training visit special needs camps and retirement homes, and even take part in educational programs.

Dori is thankful that PAALS brought her and Casper together. Although she had another service dog when they first met, he soon retired and Dori and Casper have been partners ever since. PAALS specially trained canines are taught to turn lights on and off, tug open doors, pick up dropped items and alert for help to assist individuals in wheelchairs. Thanks to his training, Casper helps Dori accomplish her everyday tasks. “Casper helps me do my laundry, get food out of the fridge and go to the bathroom,” she said. “He even flushes the toilet for me.”

Other PAALS dogs like Casper are placed in and around South Carolina to help a variety of people accomplish therapeutic and real life goals, including children with autism and soldiers with PTSD. Dori currently works at Able South Carolina, an organization built on the concept of self-empowerment, and strongly believes in the importance of empowering people with disabilities. She’s not only happy to be partnered with Casper, but also glad to be part of an organization working to facilitate these opportunities. “There are so many misconceptions about people with disabilities and service dogs,” Dori said. “People with disabilities should be just as independent as everyone else.”

While PAALS dogs are specially trained to assist people with disabilities, they’re also lending a paw to others within their communities. In February 2009, the organization partnered with Kershaw Correctional Institute to teach inmates how to raise and train canines. The program provides puppies-in-training a large amount of one-on-one time and instruction, and also offers inmates a chance to give back by working to better the lives of others.

“This is an amazing program,” Dori said. “It allows the inmates to make a difference. These are people who have made a mistake at one point during their lives and PAALS gives them the opportunity to do something good for the community.”

Outside of their work in the community, PAALS dogs also spend time with foster families so they can get used to the home and family environment. Volunteers help create a life changing canine by making them a part of the family on weekends. “Without volunteers and foster families, none of this would be possible,” Dori said. “Sometimes I look into Casper’s eyes and see the eyes of many volunteers who have contributed to PAALS in one way or another.”

For more information about PAALS, visit www.PAALS.org.

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