Paws & Think is an Indianapolis nonprofit volunteer-led organization established in 2001. Indy’s Child spoke with Kelsey Burton, Executive Director, to learn about the program and understand how dogs can play such a powerful role in enhancing the lives of at-risk youth.
Why did your founder, the late Gayle Hutchens, RN, MSN, start Paws & Think?
Her husband received a serious health diagnosis. A program featuring dogs as companions or assistants inspired her. She saw how much a dog benefited those in need and she wanted to bring that to her home here in Central Indiana. Programs reach into hospitals, nursing homes, adult daycares, reading programs, juvenile justice systems, schools and bereavement groups.
What programs for youth does Paws & Think provide?
Two of the many programs are Youth-Canine for academically and behaviorally challenged youth and R.E.A.D., Reading Education Assistance Dogs. Youth-Canine is for youth identified as vulnerable or in need of services. They are paired with a shelter dog and they train the dog in basic obedience. Then the dog returns to the shelter prepared for adoption. “Pawsitive Corrections” within this program is for incarcerated youth who work with a dog for a week at the youth’s detention center. Another side includes afterschool programs with students identified for this prevention program working with shelter dogs brought to school each day. Youth learn life skills including positive reinforcement, patience, empathy and trust. Other organizations benefit from Paws & Think including domestic violence support groups.
Paws to R.E.A.D. dogs train with their handler/owner as a team to help youth. They go to different venues including schools and libraries. A reluctant reader or someone with a disability, delays or other reason read to a dog. Teams help children improve their reading as well as build their confidence to help create a love for reading. A bonus is assisting with social and communication skills. The goal is for youth to enjoy reading to the dog and forget the pressure they may feel when reading.
Who can access this program?
Paws & Think programs are open to children as well as adults. Anyone with an emotional, physical or behavioral disability or need are welcome. We make dogs available so they can build relationships that are beneficial for the community and serve those in need of “pawsitive” love and acceptance.
These helpful animals are considered therapy dogs. What makes them different from service dogs?
Paws & Think is not a service dog program. Service dogs are trained to work with their person on a special task and go everywhere with them. Therapy dogs, instead, are trained to support and comfort various people, which often is in a group setting such as in schools and hospitals. We still must get permission to enter these facilities. Also, therapy dogs work a shorter period – up to two hours at a time.
What does Paws & Think need most to continue its mission?
Volunteers with and without dogs are always needed [to] help with various programs, website, committees, dog care, outreach events and more. We also need resources, including funding. Financial support is always welcome through fundraisers or making a tax-deductible donation. Donations are greatly appreciated because we rely 100% on donations to provide services. When someone calls us the main thing for us is finding a volunteer. We are extremely popular right now and have a waiting list.
Following us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter helps too. Getting to know us is key to our success. It helps people understand our purpose when they see our dogs at facilities. We even do many fun things in the community, such as Yappy Hours when you bring your dog and hang out with us. Sign up for our newsletter and you will stay up-to-date on activities.
Want to learn more about Paws & Think? Visit their website at http://pawsandthink.org/.