As the science delves deeper into the therapeutic benefits of service dogs to alleviate physical and emotional trauma, one group in Hawaii is making a tremendous difference for people and their canine best friends.
Founded in 1999 by Susan Luehrs, a former special education teacher, the not-for-profit Hawaii Fi-Do trains assistance dogs to provide physical, psychological and therapeutic support for people who face the daily challenges of life with a disability.
They run the only certified service dog training center on the island and offer educational outreach in schools, visiting patents in hospitals, and they work with Hawaii’s wounded warriors in collaboration with the Army and Marine Corps.
The group raises the dogs as puppies to ensure they have the necessary behaviors to perform as service dogs, using extensive health tests to make sure the dogs they place in a home live a long, productive life, providing comfort and support for their owners. It takes approximately two years and $20,000 to train a service dog. Luehrs has the help of about 20 volunteers to assist with raising puppies, training sessions and other program operations.
More than 50 dogs are assisting owners because of Hawaii Fi-Do, but through the group’s educational outreach, hundreds more are positively impacted.
“The community is always supportive and because our awareness has increased, we have more of a demand for the dogs. So donations are vital, and it’s the only way we can continue our work,” said Luehrs.
Recently, the group has been getting much-deserved attention, gracing the cover of The Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Midweek Magazine in July with a feature story on their wounded warrior program. And as part of International Service Dog Week Aug. 6-10, the team got to meet with Hawaii Sen. Suzanne Chun-Oakland, who presented them with an official proclamation from Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
“It was great to be recognized by the state with the proclamation and another wonderful way to educate the public on service dogs,” said Luehrs.
Earlier this year, we got the chance to see the group in action performing a training session at Marine Corps Base Kaneohe’s Wounded Warrior Battalion West – Detachment Hawaii. Luehrs facilitated the training with the help of Marie Selarque from Pro-Dog Hawaii and a handful of Marines who worked with the dogs on basic socialization skills dogs, helping them get ready for their new owners.
“I am grateful for the things Hawaii Fi-Do has given me. My dog Sadie, along with the help of Hawaii Fi-Do, has given me the opportunity to face challenges posed in front of me. It has helped cope with issues and life changes,” said Marine Sgt. Rafael Cervantes.
It’s every day heroes like Luehrs and her team that remind us of what a difference we can make in the lives of others and animals.
“This organization is one that I support and would recommend to anyone with physical or psychological disabilities,” said Cervantes.
To donate, volunteer as a puppy raiser, or to get more information, please visit their website, or “like” their page on Facebook.