Everyone Wins: Canines with a Cause
In the late 1990s, Canines with a Cause Founder Cathy King’s life was forever changed when a hurricane that wasn’t supposed to reach land devastated the Caribbean town she was living in. While driving around looking for supplies, she came across a couple on their honeymoon who needed a ride to the airport. That’s when King stumbled upon crates of dogs and cats that had been left behind during the evacuation. Driven by a need to help, she spent the next several months dedicating her time to providing for and finding shelter for these displaced animals. “That was when the light really went on for me—I thought, this gives me meaning,” King says.
After things had eased in the tropics, King moved to Park City where she began volunteering with Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and her passion for giving animals a new life took off. “Seeing dogs you knew you couldn’t save [and knowing that] you could only take so many into the organization was heart-breaking,” she says.
By 2010, King decided to start her own nonprofit. During this time, she also saw soldiers struggling with PTSD after coming home from Iraq, so she wanted to pair dogs with veterans to give them a non-judgmental companion that would provide them with purpose and hope. Her idea was a success, and today, her organization, Canines With a Cause has three west coast locations with another on the way.
“Seeing dogs you knew you couldn’t save [and knowing that] you could only take so many into the organization was heart-breaking.”
CWAC’s dedication to uniting rescue dogs with veterans to heal emotional and psychological wounds comes with a special training process. First, dogs are selected from shelters that exhibit traits of being non-reactive, people-oriented and laid back. They’ve found that a variety of breeds have worked well as service animals—they don’t have to be your traditional retrievers or shepherds.
The dogs are then sent to CWAC–partnered female prisons in Nevada and Idaho to begin basic training with the dogs and to take the time to pair each dog with the right veteran. The prison training is not only cost-effective but is also beneficial to the inmates and uses PAW-sitive reinforcement strategies for less stressful training. King recognizes that not every dog they select will always work well within the program. Instead, the organization works to find other careers for these dogs, whether it be pairing them with search and rescue teams, avalanche dog programs or the foster care system. If these placements don’t work out, the dogs get adopted out to a home.
“It’s a great opportunity for people who love dogs but can’t have one, or are thinking about getting a dog.”
“One way or another, they end up in a happy place,” King says. The dogs who do go on to train with their paired veteran provide transformative support. “The results are incredible,” King says. The deep bond the dogs create with veterans is not only life-affirming, but can also be lifesaving.
The organization currently needs the most support for their foster program. While there is a board and train facility in Salt Lake City, there is only so much space for the dogs. CWAC relies heavily on community involvement to give the dogs a healthy environment to live in before staying with their veteran full time. “It’s a great opportunity for people who love dogs but can’t have one, or are thinking about getting a dog,” she says. Even if it’s just for the weekend, help is always needed.
If you’d like to learn about more ways to get involved with CWAC, King encourages people to sign up for their newsletter to learn about upcoming dogs available for fostering, adoption and fundraiser events. Applications for fostering opportunities and more information can be found on the CWAC website, canineswithacause.org.
Read about more organizations with a focus on emotional and mental health:
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