Thu 9/15 @ 7PM
The Board of W.orking A.nimals G.iving S.ervice for Kids invites you to W.A.G.S.inCLE Night Out: A Night of Cabaret & Cause on Thursday, September 15th from 7PM – 11PM. The night will be full of Cleveland’s finest local farm to table restaurants serving small bites sourced regionally. Cocktails will also be seasonal and plentiful as guests enjoy an open bar, featuring locally brewed beer, locally sourced wines and notable local liquors. Guests will be greeted with a red carpet entrance featuring some of the service dogs in training and led up to the Ariel International Center (1163 East 40th Street, 44114) event space, which boosts a 360 degree view of Lake Erie and our beloved city at Sunset. W.A.G.S.inCLE Night Out will be emceed by “Baselessly Arrogant” and super fancy comedian Mike Polk Jr. dance, laugh, eat and drink, Live and Silent Auction Items, Coctail Hour Enterainment by Live Productions and more!
Many years ago, W.A.G.S became known as “the charity that Cleveland grew”, and so it was rather poetic when the organization was anointed Scene Magazine’s Readers’ Choice “Best Charity” in 2015 (the theme was Made In CLE). Since 2015, W.A.G.S has grown significantly. Now in 2016, W.A.G.S focus has changed dramatically. We sat down with Sera Nelson, Director of Development and Special Events to talk about why it’s important you attend the W.A.G.S.inCLE Night Out, the evolution of things to come, and the changes and impact the organization has had in the past couple of years.
CC: Aside from being a super fun night out in Cleveland, how will W.A.G.S.inCLE Night Out benefit the efforts of your organization?
SN: We are proud of the services that we are able to provide, and are always striving to reach more families. Each service dog that we train costs between $21,000 and $26,000 depending on the level of skill required and length of time in training. During training, W.A.G.S. 4 Kids covers the cost of all food, housing, veterinary costs, other necessary supplies and hours and hours of professional training, to ready dogs for their placement in service to a child. Moreover, each partner family commits to fundraise $9,000.00 towards the expenses of a Service Dog placement. W.A.G.S. 4 Kids commits to funding the additional $12,000 to $17,000 of cost in homing each dog with a family. We receive no government funding; therefore, we are entirely dependent on the generosity of a very strong community support network and its leaders to fulfill our financial need. Currently, contributions are funded through in-kind donations, the support of grants, sponsorships and proceeds from hosted events. The strength in leadership provided by our board of directors and our newly engaged associate board lend additional support in the critical areas of fundraising and awareness…and that includes W.A.G.S.inCLE Night Out!
CC: What are you most excited about with this event?
SN: It’s hard to pick just one. With the whole event hosted by Mike Polk Jr., we’re all guaranteed a good time…that’s for sure! I’m really excited to see what the Cleveland Cabaret Project has put together for us. They’re putting together a one night only show just for us. But let’s be honest…I’m a foodie! With a dozen amazing local spots like Lago, Pier W, Blue Point Grille, Taza, Brasa, Driftwood, Brewnuts and more, the service dog pups greeting you won’t be the only thing that’s yummy!
CC: What are some newer organizational developments you’d like to share?
SN: Our Executive Director, Wendy Crann, was asked to present, as keynote speaker, to the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities quarterly Directors Meeting and W.A.G.S. 4 Kids was selected for inclusion as a preferred service provider on the interactive “Autism Speaks” web site. The Northeast Ohio community knows us and chooses us.
Our extraordinary growth has been mandated by the population we serve. More dogs, more trainers and more specific skills to meet the needs of children. Clearly, over the last five years in particular, that need has come from children and families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorders. No other segment of our client population has grown in such numbers. Our first training program, “Dogs Don’t Speak English”’ is now the Accredited Apprenticeship Service Dog Training Manual for The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. Today, in Grafton Correctional Institution, this training course completion and mastery is the core of W.A.G.S. 4 KIDS re-entry Workforce Development Initiative. Inmate Trainers have the opportunity through practice, written testing and actual skills performance to be certified trainers for W.A.G.S. for Kids in six levels of training expertise. Our focus then was largely for the needs of mobility assistance and specifically for the challenges of children using wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
On a practical level, the training protocol of W.A.G.S. 4 Kids has evolved. We have not only kept up with the needs of the pediatric Autism Community, we have been ground breaking in our innovative and specific skills training of passive interaction and compassionate body positioning of an animal. Task training now encompasses patterned interactive behaviors of toothbrushing, feeding and bedtime rituals. We have developed commands and interactions with a child to redirect repetitive STIM behaviors. All of these new training protocols are already in practice.
The component of developing programing in four prison institutions has been the hands on involvement of our superior staff trainers and our commitment to being involved each week with the instruction/practice/correction model we employ with the inmate trainers. Requests come to us weekly from individual families in need as well as prison institutions wanting similar programming outside of our geographical area. The need for an educational tool, duplicating the very detailed examination of each skill a Service Dog must learn and the finite steps in teaching, has been developed, co-written by Wendy Crann and Justin Schaeffer, an inmate trainer at GCI . We will publish later this year.
For those with professional goals in developing programming in other prison institutions or training programs as a W.A.G.S. 4 Kids subsidiary will be the development of The Working Animals Giving Service Training Academy. This will be an independently run physical space with hands on W.A.G.S. training staff and special instruction in how to manage the business of an institutional training program, including additional programming for basic medical and grooming needs, supplies and controls. The Training Academy will be our avenue to put into practice the real life goal of our Workforce Development Initiative; a place focused on re-entry for a certified former inmate trainer to have a career. The key to affecting any real life rehabilitation is through job creation. We are very excited to announce that the first W.A.G.S. 4 Kids subsidiary will be opening to serve Central Ohio later this year. This new Central Ohio affiliate is made possible with your help and through the leadership of Certified Sr. Trainer, Rodney Houghton. Certified by the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids Accredited Apprenticeship Program in 2007, Houghton has played a crucial role in the training of over 40 service dogs to date.
CC: Talk about a reason or a case or why/how you’ve helped families, dogs, inmates.
SN: Since our first placement in 2005 we have partnered over 60 service dogs. Therapeutically, emotionally and physically, these special dogs have a life changing and positive effect on the children they serve. W.A.G.S. 4 Kids is the only organization in Ohio that exclusively places service dogs with children up to the age of 18. For all of us at W.A.G.S. 4 Kids, and for the families across Northeast Ohio that it serves, we are here, steadfast in our service to our community.
Now, fully operational at the Grafton Correctional Institution we were able to move and consolidate all of our program needs to this one location. With a capacity of twelve dogs in training, our success continues to empower the disabled youth of Northeast Ohio through the partnership of a Service Dog trained by the inmates of Grafton Correctional Institution.
Our focus on training our dogs to best assist a child ensures an immediate impact on their quality of life. Though our intention is always to enhance the wellness of a child we often cannot quantify the effects that our services have on the confidence, independence, and empowerment of a child’s future. From our very first placement with Myles, a four-year-old boy living with Cerebral Palsy in Strongsville, we have seen the strides that can come from the sense of power that service animals give. W.A.G.S. dog AJ, was partnered with Myles, living with paralysis on his left side. Nonverbal since birth, Myles communicated with simple sign language to let his parents know his wants and needs. In the final phase of AJ’s training, the W.A.G.S. trainers stopped talking to AJ and worked exclusively with hand sign commands. When AJ went to live with Myles, that little boy had a dog he could command and tell what to do, on his own, with his right hand. He had a real dog of his own. Something his parents hadn’t thought possible.
As the days passed, Myles began to speak. His first word was not “Mommy” or “Daddy”, words his
parents had waited so long to hear him say…Myles said “Come”, clear as a bell, because he wanted to talk to his dog. Since that time, we have always posted the pictures of the children we serve and the dogs that we place with them. And once they are up on Facebook we always say “Let the magic begin!” Because that’s the reality of what these dogs can do and be in the lives of children with disabilities. We have time and again seen the sense of autonomy that service animals can restore.
CC: Why is it important for this event to be successful?
SN: This is important for the child not yet born with Cerebral Palsy. This is important for the one-year-old who is not yet diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This is important for the happy thirteen-year-old whose life will change in an instant due to accident and injury. The lesson is the importance of our being here in Northeast Ohio for the families that will call next year and in five years. That is our mission now.
With your help that becomes a reality, ensuring a direct and immediate impact on a child in the communities of Cleveland by granting their desire to acquire a service dog of their own.
Purchase your tickets ($75 for individual, $100 table) W.A.G.S.inCLE Night Out, click HERE.
[written by: Kendall Embrescia-Hridel]