It was a quiet day at the office for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Advantage Realty Valley Isle on Friday, Nov. 2.
That’s because 25 of its agents spent the day at Assistance Dogs of Hawaii’s main campus in Makawao. There, they rolled up their sleeves and completed several beautification projects, including planting herbs and flowers on the property, clearing a gazebo area, and cutting back overgrown cane grass that had obstructed an oft-used pathway. “We worked hard, had some lunch and then snuggled puppies,” said Realtor-Broker Erin Clapper. “Dogs have this way of immediately calming people and lifting their spirits, so spending time with them after a morning of hard work was the best reward.”
The agents of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Advantage Realty Valley Isle have volunteered for a number of community service projects over the years, including beach clean-ups, and pitching in at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui. And when it came time to choose a project for November, Assistance Dogs of Hawaii was a unanimous choice.
“Ask anyone who knows me: I love dogs and I love giving back to the community,” said owner and principal broker Leslie-Ann Yokouchi.
And she’s not the only one. “We have so many dog lovers in our company,” Clapper explained. “Our offices are pet-friendly and we’ll have a handful of dogs in the office on any given day. We had done some projects serving other parts of the community, but it’s been a while since we served our animal community. Assistance Dogs of Hawaii is such an amazing program that we thought if there was an opportunity to serve them in some capacity, we’d like to do it.”
Assistance Dogs of Hawaii (formerly Hawaii Canines for Independence) is a Maui-based nonprofit that provides professionally trained assistance dogs to people in need throughout Hawaii—all at no cost. Executive director Mo Maurer and her husband, Will, founded the organization nearly two decades ago, and since then, more than 70 service dogs have graduated from the program. Simply put, these dogs change lives. “They give people the independence and a better life that we all strive for,” said Yokouchi. “These dogs give love, loyalty and a sense of confidence that cannot be found elsewhere.”
Prior to being matched with their human counterparts, every assistance dog must complete a rigorous training program and pass health and temperament screenings. The dogs are carefully selected based on breed, health and temperament; they begin four stages of training starting at seven weeks old. Team training camps are held several times a year, and once a team graduates, Assistance Dogs of Hawaii provides follow-up training for the life of the team.
In addition to training service dogs to assist children and adults with physical disabilities so they can lead more independent lives, the organization also places courthouse dogs in prosecutor’s offices statewide and places highly skilled facility dogs at hospitals.
The organization also sponsors several community outreach programs, including a therapy dog program for the hospitals, nursing homes and homeless shelters; a “Paws for Reading Program” that brings therapy dogs to libraries to assist children who have difficulty reading; a “Wounded Warrior Program” that pairs assistance dogs with military veterans; and a workplace readiness program that creates part-time job opportunities to help high school students with special needs gain work experience that will help them find employment after they graduate.
Assistance Dogs of Hawaii is also making its mark in the field of medical bio-detection. The organization partnered with Kapiolani Medical Center and Clinical Laboratories of Hawaii to conduct a groundbreaking research study: dogs were taught to “sniff out” bacterial infections in human urine, thereby providing early detection of life-threatening medical conditions. The study was recently mentioned in the New England Journal of Medicine and won the Oxford Journals editor’s choice award.
“It is difficult for me to describe the importance and great work Mo is doing,” Yokouchi said. “I urge everyone to find out on their own. Mo welcomes everyone to learn and see what she is doing. You will be amazed.”
By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – December 1, 2018