Each year, nearly 1,000 formerly homeless dogs and puppies find new loving homes with PAWS' help. Most of these dogs look forward to a comfortable life of playing fetch, napping on the deck or by the fireplace, and the very important job of providing unconditional love to their new family.
But for some dogs, a new career beckons as they graduate from PAWS' shelter. PAWS caught up with three of these working dogs, all of whom are making very different contributions in the workplace and in the community.
Last March, in her search for Boeing’s next explosive detection dog, trainer Melissa Larsen met more than 100 shelter dogs around the Puget Sound before finally choosing Strider from PAWS—a confident black lab mix who loves toe massages.
"It was amazing the way he used his nose to find the Kong we buried in the bark," recalled Melissa. "And he is such a big sweetheart. It’s hard to explain, but he just hits you [in a special way]."
Strider, renamed Stryker, became the first previously homeless dog to become part of Boeing's explosive detection unit in the Puget Sound. Adopting a shelter dog was an experiment for Boeing—and it was so successful that Melissa is currently scouring area shelters for another dog to add to the team.
"We wanted to train the dog from scratch, know the whole process," said Melissa. She added that it is also less expensive to adopt than to purchase from a breeder, and with mixed breed dogs there tend to be fewer medical problems than she has experienced with purebreds.
His training complete, Stryker was certified in August 2006 and now reports for duty each day with his handler Chad Olson. Stationed at an entrance gate to the Boeing facility in Seattle, they inspect incoming vehicles for chemicals and substances that might indicate explosives. They are also on-call to check out other areas when needed, like a recent suspicious package that arrived at the facility.
At the end of the day, Stryker and Chad go home together. According to Chad, Stryker’s two favorite things are playing with his adoptive sister Etta, also a former shelter pup, and digging—just like a regular dog.
Adopting Roscoe was a life-changing experience for Guy Palumbo and Rena Parker. They met him at PAWS in 2000, after he had been rescued from living on the streets. Roscoe was sick, extremely thin and half-bald with mange, but there was an instant connection with the spirited young Boxer. Guy and Rena made him home-cooked meals and nursed him back to the healthy, beautiful dog he is today.
Lucky Roscoe even went to work with Guy at Amazon every day for several years. But tiring of the corporate world, and experiencing this incredible relationship with their canine companion, Guy and Rena sought a more spiritually fulfilling path for their life and work. In 2004, they opened an innovative dog-boarding business, with a core mission to help other dogs in need. The name of this place? Roscoe’s Ranch! Nestled in the Snohomish countryside, it includes an off-leash play area, a wooded hiking trail, and individual indoor-outdoor runs for each guest. Most days, the ranch is full and last year, Guy and Rena donated over 13 percent of their net profit to area animal organizations, including PAWS.
"He’s the CEO, the figurehead, the spokesdog," explained Guy when asked what Roscoe’s role was at the business on a daily basis. "He also represents the ranch to interested clients at events like PAWSwalk." Additionally, gentle Roscoe fills in for play-groups if a dog guest doesn't seem to get along with anyone else.
But his favorite activity of all time, says Guy, is eating. "He starts begging about an hour before each meal and because we feed him three times a day, that pretty much takes up most of his time."
A typical work day finds therapy dog Georgia, an attractive German Shepherd/Australian Shepherd mix, lounging on a comfy bed. But that doesn't mean she's taking it easy. Georgia accompanies her human, Danette Johnston, to classrooms around the Puget Sound as part of an innovative program that helps kids with developmental challenges learn to read. A great listener, the wise, 12½-year-old dog provides a non-judgmental presence and a warm soft coat for children to pet as they read aloud to her, gaining confidence with every page.
Georgia and Danette have been co-workers now for more than a decade. Danette was a staff member at PAWS when the painfully thin puppy was brought to the shelter, found as a stray in Mountlake Terrace. Although shy and weakened by kennel cough, Georgia "spoke to" Danette who offered to foster the dog while she grew strong enough for adoption. "Georgia was so well-behaved and she got on great with my cats. It wasn't long before we decided she'd come home to stay," laughed Danette.
Shortly afterward, "I visited my grandmother in an assisted living facility, and saw her joy during the weekly visit from a therapy dog team," Danette shared. "I knew that Georgia would be just perfect at that job." The pair enrolled in the Delta Society’s Pet Partners® Program for therapy dog training, and soon were visiting residents at Norse Home retirement community in Seattle, and patients at the West Seattle Psychiatric Hospital.
Danette—now a certified Pet Partners instructor, and founder of Dogs Day Out daycare and training facility in Seattle—predicts Georgia will stay in her current role until retirement. "She loves being read to by the children more than anything. She is happiest on a soft bed with kids hanging off her!"