GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mo Maurer's organization Hawaii Canines for Independence has recently moved onto a 2.5-acre site in rural Makawao. The group provides service dogs such as puppy-in-training Yukon, left, and Oliver for people with disabilities.
Dog trainers deliver hope to the disabled
MAKAWAO » What began 10 years ago in a family living room training dogs for people with disabilities has become a 2.5-acre statewide canine education center in the wooded ranch lands of Makawao.
The nonprofit Hawaii Canines for Independence opened their new center last week, including a 2,700-square-foot building to house kennels and a place for the disabled to stay during three weeks of intensive education.
"It will allow us to serve more people in the community," said Mo Maurer, executive director of Hawaii Canines For Independence. "We feel so blessed for the tremendous community support we have received to make this dream a reality."
Maurer said the location along Kealaloa Avenue is close to three high schools and will enable students to work as volunteers.
"The children can learn about helping people with disabilities," she said.
Maurer said Kula Hospital is planning to bring patients egularly for therapy and social interaction with the dogs.
The dogs are placed with qualified applicants throughout the state at no charge.
Since the group began, it has trained 22 service dogs to assist their new owners, including paraplegics and the blind, she said.
About 15 therapy dogs have been trained to be companions and provide social interaction with their partners, Maurer said.
The service dogs who assist the disabled start training when they are about 7 weeks old. It takes about 1 1/2 to two years to learn 90 commands, she said.
Maurer said some of the dogs come from the Humane Society and canine schools abroad.
The group also adopts dogs from the Humane Society to send to the nonprofit group Dogs for the Deaf in Oregon.
"We all work together to help save the dogs' lives and help them reach their full potential," she said.
The center also provides follow-up training for the dogs and their owners.
Maurer said her group has had the highest success rate in training golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers.
Oahu resident Melanie Johnson, who uses a wheelchair and received her service dog from the group, said the new center will help reduce the cost of visiting Maui while receiving the training.
"It cost so much to go and stay at a hotel," said Johnson.
Johnson, who is blind and suffers from lupus, said the new site is also wheelchair accessible.
Johnson, who also suffered a stroke in 1995, said having her service dog, Freedom, has changed her life and enabled her to go places she otherwise would be unable to reach.
She also said a service dog would be beyond her financial reach without the help of Hawaii Canines for Independence.
"There's no way I could afford a dog like him," she said.
For 6-year-old Ava Heller, who has spina bifida and hydrocephalus, receiving her service dog Oliver a year ago has drastically changed her life for the better, her mother, Monica Heller, said.
Heller said Oliver helps Ava walk or pulls her in her wheelchair.
Heller said that with Oliver delivering her prescription drugs, taking medicine has become easier.
"It kind of lightens everything," Heller said.
Oliver has also been trained to bark to alert people when Ava has seizures. "It's given me peace of mind. It's been a blessing."
Maurer said that about 10 years ago, she and her husband Will used their living room as a training area for the canines and later found space elsewhere.
She said her group was fortunate that Hope Chapel and later the Queen Kaahumanu Center provided temporary space for the organization for several years.
She said she was also thankful that Haleakala Ranch sold the 2.5-acre site to the organization.
More information about the group may be obtained through the web site www.Hawaiicanines.com or Hawaii Canines For Independence, P.O. Box 790626, Paia, HI 96779.