It was a perfect match from the start.
In November of 2018, Kim Insley-Morrell, a Realtor-Salesperson with Coldwell Banker Island Properties, met Valor, a yellow lab from Australia. The then-eight-week-old puppy had made the nearly 5,000-plus-mile journey to Maui to be raised and trained by Insley-Morrell through the Assistance Dogs of Hawaii program. For nearly a year, Insley-Morrell attended weekly classes with Valor and helped him master basic commands—“sit,” “stay,” “come,” etc.—as well as more specific tasks, like retrieving dropped items and opening and closing doors. “The training is focused on setting the dogs up for success,” she explained.
Valor stayed with Insley-Morrell at her Kihei home and the pair would “do life” together every day. She exposed him to a variety of social environments—from the beach to the grocery store to her Wailea office—and trained him to not react to other animals, people, noises and distractions. “Our time together was very purposeful,” she said.
Assistance Dogs of Hawaii (formerly Hawaii Canines for Independence) is a fully accredited Maui-based nonprofit that provides professionally trained assistance dogs to people with physical disabilities and other special needs throughout Hawaii—free of charge. Executive director Mo Maurer and her husband, Will, founded the organization two decades ago, and since then, dozens of dogs have graduated from the program. Prior to being matched with their human counterparts, every dog must complete a rigorous training program and pass health and temperament screenings. Once a match is made, there are a number of team training sessions, and once the team graduates, Assistance Dogs of Hawaii will provide follow-up training for the life of the team.
In addition to service dogs for children and adults with limited mobility, Assistance Dogs of Hawaii has trained full-time hospital facility dogs who now dole out love and snuggles to hundreds of patients in Hawaii every day, including Kula at The Queen’s Medical Center-West Oahu, Samson at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, and Angel at Straub Medical Center. And the nonprofit’s full-time courthouse dogs—like Cassie at Maui’s Child Welfare Services office and Faith at Hawaii County’s Prosecuting Attorney Office—give comfort and courage to victims and witnesses of crime.
Assistance Dogs of Hawaii also sponsors several community outreach programs, including a therapy dog team program for nursing homes, hospitals and rehabilitation facilities; a workplace readiness program that helps high school students with special needs gain work experience before they graduate; a wounded veteran program; and an Ohana Program for groups like Easter Seals and special education classes from local schools.
Valor is now in the second half of his training, and given his abilities (among many other things, he’s an expert cuddler), Insley-Morrell says the sky’s the limit as far as where he could be placed once he graduates. Valor is Insley-Morrell’s third trainee. In 2007, she volunteered to puppy-raise Shelby, a golden retriever, and several years later, Ranger, a black lab. She said she may take on a fourth trainee sometime in the future.
It’s clearly no small feat, but volunteering to raise and train an assistance dog like Valor is a selfless act of kindness. “I do this for someone else, not for myself,” she explained. “My heart is happy because I know his gifts will help make someone else’s life better.”
And you can help, too. Apart from signing up to be a puppy raiser, you can support Assistance Dogs of Hawaii—and celebrate its 20th anniversary—by attending the nonprofit’s annual Valentine’s Benefit Event on Saturday, Feb. 22, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. This year’s event will feature a gourmet dinner, live and silent auctions, and an opportunity to meet some of the puppy trainees and human-canine graduate teams.
Individual tickets are $175 per person; tables of ten are also available for $1,750. To purchase tickets, visit https://assistancedogshawaii.ejoinme.org/valentinesevent. To learn more about Assistance Dogs of Hawaii or to inquire about volunteer or donor opportunities, visit www.assistancedogshawaii.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 298-0167.
The Maui News – January 20, 2020