Where We’ve Come From
Jillian’s First Poodle… (2000-06)
Our Founder/Executive Director/Lead Trainer, Jillian Gartner, was born into a non-dog family with allergies. As a home-schooler, Jillian found her passion in dogs and decided to raise an assistance puppy as her main project. She was 11 years old when a Poodle pup became available to raise through a local program, NEADS, and was put into her care. He was a wild pup, but learned his obedience very quickly and eventually went on to graduate as a Hearing Dog. When he returned to the kennel for advanced training, Jillian began volunteering in the kennel as well, and acquired a Standard Poodle of her own.
Off to California (2006)
Jillian spent her teen years volunteering/working at this well-established assistance dog program, followed by interning under their lead trainer, Brian Jennings. At age 18 she moved to California to attend Bergin University of Canine Studies (then called the Assistance Dog Institute), for eight months studying directly under Dr. Bonnie Bergin (pioneer of the Service Dog concept and founder of Canine Companions for Independence).
While at BUCS, Jillian spoke with many people in the assistance dog industry from around the world, and realized that when it came to hypo-allergenic dogs, few programs used them with regularity and waiting lists were extremely long (many programs quoted 5-8 years before a suitable Poodle may be available for any given recipient).
A Kennel in Warren, MA (2007)
On her graduation from college, Jillian was offered rental of a 14-run kennel facility back home in Massachusetts, where she expanded her teen grooming business into a full-service boarding kennel with grooming, day care and training – Wow Take A Bow. In her ‘spare time’, she began fine-tuning the business outline she had begun as a school project – starting a Service Dog training program.
A Service Poodle Program is Born (2008)
In 2008 the first Poodles were acquired and volunteers were brought in to help puppy-raise and train. Wow Take A Bow provided living, exercise and training space for APAW dogs at no cost, and Jillian covered nearly all expenses out of her own pocket. The following year Jillian reached out to BUCS and offered an internship to a recent graduate, Sharon Grant. With Sharon on board, APAW was able to develop more solidified training schedules and welcome more dogs into training.
Where to Find Poodles?
Our first 3 dogs were from a local breeder and did quite well in their training – the 2 girls eventually became the start of our breeding program as well as Therapy and demo Service Dogs; the boy graduated as our first fully-qualified mobility Service Dog. During this time we adopted a handful of Poodles and mixes thereof, but found that the incidence of health issues and unforeseen behavioral issues, or a temperament not quite perfect for assistance work caused each dog to be released (when possible they were placed as loving and skilled pets for people with disabilities; otherwise they found a loving home with a handler who could safely manage their ‘quirks’). We had similar temperament results with carefully-bred Poodles accepted based on evaluations not performed by Jillian, and decided to only accept 1) dogs which she could evaluate in person, 2) dogs with known personal histories, and 3) purebred Poodles with known family health histories.
Once we decided to breed our own litters, our success rate steadily began to increase. At current time, we are around 75% success in a full-time assistance role for litters we’ve bred (5 litters as of early 2016). We do still accept dogs from other breeders on occasion, but only local dogs that we evaluate in person.
Jillian Gets Sick (2010)
In 2010 Jillian began getting quite sick, and it was eventually determined that the old farmhouse she was living in had mold inside the walls. Wow Take A Bow was closed and Jillian and Sharon moved with the APAW dogs into an apartment where family could help as Jillian’s health slowly improved. After 6 months, Jillian was well enough to get back to training and look for a new source of income to support her ‘APAW habit’.
Making New Friends (2011-12)
Jillian and Sharon were approached to live in the client house for NEADS, welcoming clients coming to receive their assistance dogs. APAW took a back-burner for a while, until Jillian realized that APAW just needed to grow and support itself as it’s own official non-profit organization. Once the official paperwork was approved, APAW needed to find it’s own location – eventually that was found in Spencer, Massachusetts.
Our First Home – Spencer, MA (2013-15)
APAW’s first un-shared location was a rented 4,000sf urban convenience store with a small parking lot and 52 abutters. It was splendid! During our time on Chestnut Street we graduated 9 assistance teams! But as the program developed we realized that we really needed a different kind of set-up… so much indoor space was amazing – but most of it was un-usable for the purposes we needed due to all being a single room where the full kennel of dogs wanted to participate in every training session, every interview, and every phone call.
We needed a kennel area separate from the training room and interview/greeting area. We needed outdoor space and fresh air. We needed thorough insulation and the ability to renovate and make changes to the property. We needed a house for Jillian to live on-site rather than commuting or spending the night at the kennel.
Poodles go to Westminster! MA (2016+)
After a year of searching, Jillian and her fiance Tim found a home with a large detatched garage and 1.4 acres of lawn, and began a rent-to-own agreement in December 2015. The garage is being converted into a kennel and separate training room, while Jillian’s office space is kept quiet in the house.
With this move comes many wonderful changes to the way APAW can be run, all for the benefit of our tight-knit family of recipients, volunteers, supporters and dogs. We are revamping our client eligibility requirements, mainly to focus on creating a very strong network of local clients/trainers. Once we have this network of trained handlers in place, we’ll expand our range by forming mini-chapters which new recipients will be able to refer to for support when the APAW center is too far away.
Into the Future (2016+)
Eventually we hope to expand APAW to become a nation-wide resource for people in need of a Poodle Assistance Dog, but we must be careful to take it in small steps to be sure we can provide the proper follow-up support each Team may need along the way. We hope you will join us in support and stay tuned for updates as APAW continues to develop and expand.