Welcome to Wear Wag Repeat Podcast Episode 28: Sheri Soltes of Service Dogs, Inc. runs a Texas based non-profit that trains rescue dogs to become service animals for people with disabilities. If you love heartwarming stories of life-saving dogs, then you’ll love this conversation. Also, September is National Service Dog Month, a time designated to raising awareness and showing appreciation for the extraordinary work service animals do every day for the people in their care. Share this episode to help honor these amazing dogs and people!
Sheri Soltes founded Service Dogs, Inc. in 1988 on the concept of using dogs rescued from animal shelters as service animals.
An honors graduate from the University of Texas School of Law, she left her law practice to devote her energy full time to building Service Dogs, Inc. Under her guidance the non-profit has led the industry in combining the use of rescue dogs with positive reinforcement training methodology to create working partners for Texans living with a severe loss of hearing or mobility.
Sheri has mentored assistance dog programs around the world including Australia, Japan, Spain and Chile. She has been a featured speaker at many conferences and institutions.
Tori: Service Dogs, Inc. is celebrating its 30 year anniversary. What inspired you to create it?
Sheri: I started as a trial lawyer in Houston and found it to be very stressful. I wasn’t loving it, so I looked at what I was passionate about. I’m just one of those people who wants to rescue all the animals! Back in the 80’s there wasn’t anyone training service or hearing dogs in the Texas area. I did a survey of groups that help people with disabilities in my area and most of them said they’d like to have a service dog organisation here.
I didn’t really know what I was doing when I started. But I believe you just have to put one foot in front of the other and people will show up to help you. I started asking around and found the resources that I needed.
Tori: Your group paved the way in using positive training methods. What made you decide to do that when hardly anyone else was?
Sheri: I was actually watching show a show in the early 90s where someone was comparing dog training to dolphin training. So, I drove over to SeaWorld in San Antonio and asked if they could help us. They pioneered positive training and ended up mentoring us with operant training methods which are based on positive reinforcement.
Tori: How do you find shelter dogs who are a good fit to become service dogs?
Sheri: It’s an art and a science. At the shelter we look for a young adult who is friendly. A dog who hangs back and is shy could be a good pet, but we need one who is confidant to go out in public. We also rule out the aggressive dogs, they could be rehabilitated into great pets, but we’re handing these dogs over to someone with special needs.
Then we take then out in the yard and do some temperament testing. We want a dog who’s people oriented and will come over to see us. If it’s going to be a service dog they’ll need to do a lot of retrieving, so we test to see if they like that.
Tori: What’s the difference between a service dog, a therapy dog and an emotional support animal?
Sheri: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act there are two questions you can ask someone: “Is that a service dog,” and “What tasks does the dog do for you?” Service dogs must be able to perform at least one task. That’s one of the differences between a service dog and an emotional support animal.
A therapy Dog is your own dog who you take to volunteer at a hospital or something like that. An emotional support dog can comfort you. A service dog is an animal that can help you with specific tasks. No matter who you are it’s important to consider your lifestyle before getting any dog.
Also mentioned: assisatancedogsinternational.org
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