Client Services - C.H.A.M.P.ion Style!
Theresa Dattilo, MBA - (Former) Director of Client Services
Every month the volunteers of C.H.A.M.P. Assistance Dogs, Inc. are scurrying across the St. Louis area. Kim is on her way to visit Jared*. Darla is headed to Denny's* house. Nancy is going to Stella's* this month. Dianne and Linda are visiting Lillian*. Nola is doing a post-placement visit with Jordan* and Liza*. Janet is going to Claire's* for a training outing. Diane is visiting Abbie* and her family. I am checking in on Hannah*. And on and on it goes for the volunteers and clients of C.H.A.M.P., Inc.
Regular visits with our clients are in integral component of the success of the C.H.A.M.P., Inc. program. Clients who are waiting for their service dog to be selected and trained receive a visit from a C.H.A.M.P., Inc volunteer and therapy dog at least once a month. These visits serve several purposes.
Our first goal is to educate our clients. Many of our clients have never owned a dog before. We teach them about service dog grooming, discuss basic canine health care, give precautionary alerts (NO chocolate, onions, antifreeze, etc.), advise what to do in case of emergency, and cover many other topics.
The monthly therapy visits are also very important in helping us learn more about our clients. We are gathering information about what tasks the clients needs their service dog to perform and which canine personality traits would be the most suitable. Does the client need a high energy dog or a dog that can move slowly, adjusting to their partner's slow gait? Is the client's disability progressing and does their service dog's training need to be adjusted in order to compensate?
Our clients also look forward to the monthly visits simply for the experience of the canine/human bond. Stroking, hugging, and interacting with a well trained, happy, dog is both therapeutic and relaxing.
When it gets within a few months of transferring the service dog to the client, our visits increase as the advanced trainers also visit the clients in their homes. The clients are now learning the commands they'll use with their canine partner. They practice the commands with an education dog so that their skills are solid when their service dog is placed with them. For clients requiring public access dogs the training visits include lots of outings to the mall, the grocery store, church, restaurants, and the many other places our clients frequent.
Even after the service dog is partnered with the client in their home, our visits continue. The placement is simply the beginning of a long and treasured relationship with our organization. In some cases the client needs to add skills to their service dog after placement so our trainers will do periodic training visits. Throughout the life of the client/service dog partnerships we continue to visit them in their homes a minimum of twice a year in order to monitor the service dog's health and to ensure that the dog's skills are staying sharp.
Our clients often become like family and join our staff and volunteers at various celebrations and gatherings throughout the year. Staying in touch is a hallmark of our client relationships.
The C.H.A.M.P., Inc. volunteers invest a great deal of time making certain the client has the knowledge and skill to be successful with their service dog. Our ultimate goal is for the client's partnership, both with their dog and with our organization, to be a very long and happy one.
*Client names have been changed to protect confidentiality.