Beginnings: Possibility Dogs began with a chance meeting between a search-and-rescue dog handler and a retired firefighter in 2007. The firefighter, who had been badly injured on duty several years before, had a service dog by his side, trained to assist his physical and psychological disabilities. He was frank about all the ways his dog made a normal life possible. They were a connected, loving pair. He had found her in a shelter—they found each other, he said—and after an intense period of training that he conducted with help from experts, she proved herself both as a diligent partner and a public presence.
Intrigued by that partnership and by some of the working similarities between psych service dogs and search-and-rescue canines, SAR dog handler Susannah Charleson began collaboration with animal behaviorists, dog trainers, mental health professionals, canine rescue organizations, and service dog handlers to form an organization supporting that good work. Charleson, an award-winning college professor of 30 years and a flight instructor for 22, is committed to clear and focused curricula and collaborative learning. Possibility Dogs is the product of four years of foundation research that continues forward through professional training and primary field experience.
Mission: Our mission is two-fold: We seek to give homeless dogs with a talent for service a second chance for a full, loving life, and we support the service dog partnership, with particular focus on psychiatric and/or mobility assistance.
Scope: Possibility Dogs is proud to support the owner-co-trained service dog partnership and seeks to provide training resources, mentorship assistance, and practical real-time information on pet medical or dog team liability insurance, travel, housing, public access laws and policies. We are a program for partnerships that did not originate in a program but need a similar level of support.
Program Standards: Because the service dog partnership has legally-protected status under the ADA, Air Carrier Access Act, and Fair Housing Amendments Act, among other state and local level policies, it is important that dog-and-handler teams have safe, sound, and reliable public stewardship. Possibility Dog teams must pass a rigorous Public Access Test based on the minimum standards here, with additional test items relevant to mass transportation, school, and medical environments. Until service teams pass the PAT and disability-specific task testing, dogs are considered service-dogs-in-training and are subject to state/local laws governing their access. Possibility Dogs does provide a public access training curriculum that allows the dog to develop public deportment in a manner most beneficial to learning and least disruptive to the public. Public access and task testing must be renewed every two years. Emotional Support [Dogs] allowable (with provisions)by the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act, must also pass the Public Access Test, even though primary intent may be for that partnership to exist only in the home. Comfort/Therapy dogs must also pass a PAT equivalent. While the standards are rigorous, the good news is that diligent partnerships have a lot to be proud of when those standards are met. And as experienced partners with dogs that serve their disability will tell you, the help is most brilliant when the human partner knows that their presence will not be disruptive to others and that the dog can be counted on to serve reliably. There is a lot of earned pride in that.
Board of Directors
Susannah Charleson, Executive Director, MS Communication, CPDT-KA, SAR-Tech II
Member Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Association of Pet Dog Trainers, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists, International Critical Incident Stress Foundation
Aimee Snow, Director, Treasurer
Elaine Harris, Director
Emma Parsons,author of Click to Calm: canine training
Susan Blatz, All Dogs All Day: canine evaluation / training
Devon Thomas Treadwell, principal, Pollywog, Inc.: branding and marketing
Elaine Harris, Pom Rescue, Inc.: rescue coordination
Suzan Morris, handler/trainer: canine training, service dog rights and responsibilities
Dr. Jon Morris, MD
Susan Ruby, MA, LMHC