Hawaii Fi-Do Uniting People And Their Dogs

A six-week-old puppy begins its training to become a certified service dog. Photo from Hawaii Fi-Do.

A six-week-old puppy begins its training to become a certified service dog. Photo from Hawaii Fi-Do.

Dogs assist humans in many ways. They offer unconditional love, but many also help their owners in a physical aspect.

Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs is the only accredited Assistance Dog International program on Oahu, and it uses these canine companions to help people with disabilities live healthier lives.

The organization began in 1999 with current executive director Susan Luehrs, who was a Kahuku High teacher at the time.

“I had a dog lover and wonderful principal, Lea Albert, who allowed us to do a pet therapy program in my classroom,” Luehrs explained. “We saw the amazing response of the kids and people around them.”

Luehrs then went on a journey to discover more about dog therapy, and in the process learned about service dogs. At the time there was no one in Hawaii training service dogs, and Luehrs found her niche.

Thanks to a grant from a Lions club, she traveled to California to take part in a program that certified service dog trainers.

“That’s how we started,” she said, “and 15 years later, we’re still here.”

Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs hosted an informational meeting April 12 at its Haleiwa site for veterans, and offering them hands-on training with Labrador puppies and details on what it takes to train a service dog. This session focused on the pups, which were training to be PTSD service dogs in the nonprofit’s veteran dogs program.

“We’re trying to educate the community,” Luehrs said. “You have to have the right dog to do this type of job. I get tons of calls from people who say, ‘I have a Chihuahua.’ This is a type of breed that is bred to do other things.

“Part of the problem is that people are bringing out their pets who are not trained and not capable of doing what service dogs are doing.”

Dogs normally used in the service/assistant industry include Labradors, golden retrievers and poodle mixes – basically breeds that are social and possess a nice temperament.

Hawaii Fi-Do also conducts programs that include READ to the Dogs, youth training, therapeutic wellness visits and hospice visits.

School programs involve educating keiki on responsibilities of taking care of dogs, as well as the protocol of service dogs.

During the READ to the Dogs events, elementary schools visit Hawaii Fi-Do and read out loud to the trained dogs.

Hawaii Fi-Do is comprised solely of volunteers, and aims to train service dogs according to ADI standards.

“We’re happy to help people,” Luehrs said.

Although the group does not train personal pets, Hawaii Fi-Do shares information with owners on the correct way to work with their own dogs.

For more details, visit hawaiifido.org.