Dogs whose job is to play cool games at ARCH!

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Secret and Michael enjoy a very special bond.

Every Thursday, Karen and Wendi from Raising Hope Dogs bring over their professional working dogs to play a variety of games with us at ARCH. Karen said, “The activities we do at ARCH with your participants helps train our dogs for Raising Hope’s main community event, HopeDog Challenge. The participants get them used to working with other people and understanding different people’s voices. We love coming to ARCH!”
We interviewed Karen to find out more.

How did you get into this?

I’m an occupational therapist. In the spring of 2012, I was looking for a trainer for my spirited Chihuahua puppy. I quickly became an avid student, because it was obvious that Wendi has a unique skill set training dogs, and a true gift of intuition and patience. When she was facing major changes at her job, I patiently insisted that she consider coming to work with me at Arcadia Therapy Services and explore the use of well-trained dogs in home care with kids. Finally, in October of 2013, she relented. She met with me on a Monday to learn about the job and within two weeks we were in homes together with her amazing dog Frisco who was a talented athlete and able to do all types of service dog tasks. We worked with more than 50 families, eventually including that spirited Chihuahua and Wendi’s incredible border collie Secret in the work. Over the next two years, we experienced such powerful results, we decided to create an organization that would bring more dogs to more kids and adults in Arizona, and eventually nationwide. In November of 2015, we established Raising Hope Dogs. During this time of growth and vision, we met with Tom Murray, Joe Murray’s older brother, and he recommended we connect with ARCH. Soon after Tom passed, we made the connection that Tom had facilitated, and we started coming to ARCH to help our new dogs gain the skills they need for their future working with people who need help reaching important life goals. The rest as they say is happy history!

What does your organization do to help people with disabilities?

Our primary work is with kids and teens with Autism and other developmental disabilities. In addition to HopeDog Challenges, we coordinate with physical, occupational and speech therapists to do individualized sessions in family’s homes and community locations. Once they gain basic skills for working with the dogs in their homes, we often take on the community. Social games at the park and shopping outings in stores that allow dogs are truly a highlight for both the kids and dogs. We have occupational therapy interns working with us for a few months at a time, and they love getting the exposure to such a unique program. ARCH is a great place for our students to increase their skills working with the developmental disability population.

Why do you think our participants like the dogs?

They like interacting with them to play games and do physical activities. It’s exciting and something different. They might be used to seeing dogs, but most have not had much experience engaging with well-trained dogs who can do unexpected things like jump rope, stack rings on cones, and jump seven feet in the air to catch a well-thrown disc. By playing games and competing, participants get to learn special skills they may have missed when they grew up; for example, basic math skills for keeping score. Over time, they begin to understand the importance of more complex skills like speed and coordination, and come to value repeated effort that can lead to success. (Wendi is a big believer in TRY AGAIN! Repetition is key to learning; she lives it every day with kids and dogs alike). So much goes into playing games and competing! It’s especially meaningful for us to work with some of the older participants. Spending time with our dogs, and agreeing to the crazy games that Wendi, the students and I bring to them! -- it all helps them tap back into the games and experiences of their childhood. Feeling young and staying active brings a lot of happiness to all of us as we age.

What do you like about coming to ARCH?

I like the opportunity to work our dogs there. I love the environment. It’s beautiful here and the participants have the best conditions. Everyone is very happy and well taken care of.

HopeDog Challenge is an exciting day of dog sports competition for kids and teens with autism, down sydrome and cerebral palsy. There are currently 3 competition seasons a year; learn more at
The next Game Day at ARCH will be Saturday April 8 from 10-4.

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