TOP DOG is a Tuscon, Arizona-based organization that is dedicated to teaching people with disabilities—including those with brain and spinal cord injuries—how to train their own dogs to become fully certified service animals able to perform a range of tasks that help make their owners’ lives much easier. After six years as a program within a larger nonprofit, executive director Lynn Baker and her team decided the time was right to make TOP DOG a standalone organization with a goal of writing and producing training materials that could not only be used along-side the weekly classes, but to reach people more people throughout the state of Arizona.
More than a decade later, in addition to successfully running classes in Tucson, TOP DOG has sold more than 17,000 copies of its self-published training manuals worldwide. The manuals can be purchased in the form of books, as well as VHS tapes and DVDs with closed captioning, as well as e-books and CDs for the visually impaired. They also have created a web-based training program, and have six distributors from as close as Phoenix and as far away as Australia. For its work supporting people with disabilities, TOP DOG was recognized as a 2014 Community Partner of The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation.
“With the Foundation’s support we are able to reach our goal of seeing 90% of enrolled dogs achieve certification,” Baker said. “Up to 95% of students increase their quality of life and gain more independence as a direct result of the assistance of a service dog. Without the willingness of organizations such as The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation, local charities would struggle to help people with brain and spinal cord injuries or illnesses achieve a fuller life.”
TOP DOG is using the grant money to offset the costs of training materials, training equipment, transportation assistance and unexpected veterinary bills that are frequently incurred during the training program. There are currently three students who are being directly helped by the grant. One student has spinal bifida and scoliosis; another has a spinal cord injury and relies on a wheelchair; and the other student is suffering from spinal stenosis and is an amputee. All three are in different classes within the training program.