Dog group hopes to build Vero Beach training center to help dogs help others

VERO BEACH – Dogs For Life is an organization that does more than operate a dog park in Vero Beach. It’s a group that, for years, has helped train service and therapy dogs.

Now, Dogs For Life is ready to take that mission to the next level – build a training center to facilitate even more training.  

“That’s what we’re really all about,” Dogs For Life President Al Turner said during the kickoff campaign for a capital fund drive to build the center.

The non-profit hopes to raise $350,000 in the first of two phases of fund-raising to build the center, which would be located within the dog park on 12th Street near Vero Beach Elementary School.

“There are so many needs out there” for assistance dogs, Turner said.

The organization has helped train and certify several dogs who help their humans who are mobility, visually, hearing or otherwise impaired. The next step is to train dogs to help veterans who are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Dogs For Life member Jim Taylor, who has retired from the Army, has enlisted the help of his family’s companion pug, Pia Pia, to help him hear and cope with PTSD.

Pia Pia (“pia” is the Chinese word for “pug”) hunts Taylor down when someone is looking for him. She also tells him when there is someone knocking at the door or when the fire alarm sounds.

She can also operate a modified phone rigged to dial a certain phone number – such as 911.

Pia Pia guards Taylor’s back, making sure no one gets too close behind him.

Taylor told the assembled audience at the kick-off that having Pia Pia guard his back keeps him from suffering panic attacks.

“My life wouldn’t be the way it is today,” Taylor said, if not for Pia Pia’s training.

Taylor is one example of what Dogs For Life wants to continue to do and expand on doing.

“This is our opportunity,” Dogs For Life member David Johnson said. “We want your participation.”

The non-profit organization supplements its revenues from membership dues with donations from the community. Turner said 25 percent of the membership dues go to the training assistance programs while the rest go into maintaining the dog park, which barely breaks even.

The group hopes that others in the community – whether Dogs For Life members or not – will support the training center and help them raise the money they need.

“We’re talking about a life-saving animal, here,” said Executive Director and Founder Shelly Ferger.

She said that they want to raise the money as quickly as possible so they could know before the end of the year whether or not they should proceed.

A member of the community, who was not named, helped Dogs For Life kick start the capital campaign, donating $20,000. That same person has since donated another $25,000.

“Dogs For Life was not in a financial position to take on this campaign,” Ferger said. But because of the donor’s persistence and financial contributions, the group agreed to undertake the endeavor.

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