K4Paws + two wheels = fundraising for priceless independence

A K4Paws service dog poses in a sidecar at last year’s Charity Ride. Submitted Photo.

What dollar value would you place on your own independence? We may think of our independence as priceless, but Kingston 4 Paws Service Dogs knows that, for many in our community, independence in a very practical sense comes on four paws at a cost of around $20,000.

The mission of Kingston 4 Paws Service Dogs (K4Paws) is to provide professionally trained service dogs for those facing physical and/or emotional challenges and their families, assisting them to become more independent in their southeastern Ontario communities.

K4Paws dogs are trained to provide specific assistance, whether their humans are autistic, need PTSD support, have mobility needs, or require seizure response. The cost is $20,000 to $25,000 per dog to purchase, train, and continue handling support for the families. K4Paws does not receive any government funding.

Service dog recipients do not pay out of pocket for their dogs, explained Kristina Murphy, but they and their families help with fundraising to acquire, care for, and train the animal. That is why Murphy is organizing the third annual Charity Ride and Silent Auction to raise funds for K4Paws, to take place on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023.

Murphy’s 14-year-old daughter, Lexi, recently received Darby, a black lab from K4Paws, after being on the waitlist for two years. On July 27, 2023, Darby came home to stay with Lexi for good, and the two of them will embark on the adventure that is secondary education at Sydenham High School this fall.

Murphy is an avid motorcyclist and first conceived of doing a Charity Ride to raise funds for Lexi’s dog in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. She had participated in other charity rides herself, but it was a new fundraising concept for K4Paws, and presented logistic challenges that year due to pandemic event restrictions.

“We just had the ride, which was totally okay because we kept our distance, and you know, it was pretty smooth,” she said.

Then, in 2022, with restrictions eased, more options opened up for the event.

“Last year, we actually were able to do everything [that we wanted to]. We had a silent auction, and had food, and we brought in over $3,000 total… People pay to ride, they register, and all that money goes directly to K4Paws,” Murphy explained.

Lexi takes a stroll in the park with Darby watching over her. Submitted photo.

Lexi is responsible for all of Darby’s care at the moment, in order to encourage the bond between them, which Murphy admits can be a bit hard at times when she would love to assist but is not supposed to.

“People don’t realize that at first, it can be really stressful [to have a service dog],” Murphy shared.

Of course, adding a new canine family member is a bit of an adjustment. Lexi says that she loves having Darby, and has taken her to parks and to the mall successfully, but even she admitted, “I don’t like [all] the hair.” But shedding aside, Lexi is delighted with Darby, and looks forward to venturing out into the wider world together, where it is Darby’s job to help with Lexi’s anxiety.

Murphy’s friend and fellow motorcyclist, Angela Dobson, is participating in the ride this year, specifically to raise money for a four-year-old boy from Belleville who needs a service dog. She emphasized that, often, because K4Paws has its home-base in Kingston, people don’t realize that the organization provides service dogs all over southeastern Ontario.

Dobson, who lives in Belleville, explained that her son Thomas has a service dog named Humphrey, who has changed their lives during the last two and a half years. 20-year-old Thomas is autistic, and suffered from extreme anxiety as a child, which prevented him from attending school. After two very traumatic incidents in Grade 5, which resulted in Thomas needing surgery, he was homeschooled.

Humphrey on the job with his handler Thomas Dobson. Submitted photo.

Humphrey has really helped Thomas conquer his anxiety, Dobson shared.

“Thomas can now go into the hospital by himself for an appointment, which we never expected him to do. If he can take his dog, he can do anything independently,” Dobson said, noting that Humphrey gives Thomas motivation to be more physically active, and that the two love to go swimming together.

“The dog has now allowed him to rejoin life. He’s not as afraid to go out. He’s just starting to volunteer. He volunteers with Quinte Sailability,” she marveled. “Him and his dog go down [to the Bay of Quinte] and they go out in the boat. They tow boats out, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for me as a mom… It feels like ‘Oh my god. He’s left the building without us.’ It is incredible.”

Dobson reflected, “So those things, like they seem small to anybody else, but when you have an autistic family member who is basically a house-hermit, for them to go out on their own is just empowering.”

Humphrey also alerts them and Thomas when he has a seizure, which is truly amazing, said Dobson. “Humphrey wasn’t trained for that; he’s just so in tune with Thomas, he knows when that’s happening.”

Most people know that they shouldn’t interact with Humphrey when he is working, but Dobson said when Thomas wants to, he can use Humphrey as a good conversation starter.

“If Thomas is feeling safer and he wants to interact with someone, he can give the ‘visit’ command to Humphrey and Humphrey can go visit… He does reserve that just to situations where he wants to interact with someone. But Humphrey is a really good starter talking point for Thomas to interact with people… Talking about his dog, Thomas comes right out of his shell,” she said.

Dobson explained that, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she and Thomas and the rest of their team needed to raise $17,000 to bring Humphrey home. They accomplished this with a bottle drive, because nobody wanted to go out to return their empties. “It was just lucky timing and amazing,” she acknowledged happily.

She pointed out that new and different ideas for fundraising, like the Charity Ride, help to diversify the donor pool.

“Every time you bring a new idea forward, you access a different bunch of people. So Kristina’s idea of doing the charity bike rides is wonderful because you’re involving a different sort of community… it spreads why K4Paws does what it does and who they’re helping,” she expressed.

“I’ve never ridden in a charity bike run, this is going to be my first one. So, I’ve gathered a bunch of my friends from Belleville, from Ottawa — and we’re all meeting. So, that’s kind of exciting for me.”

Thomas Dobson hugs his service dog Humphrey, whom he calls “his independence.” Submitted photo.

One need look no further than a message Thomas wrote for the K4Paws website to understand how Humphrey and K4Paws changed his life.

Thomas said, “This yellow lab is NOT just a dog. Humphrey is now my independence… and we have a lot of living to do… Now that I have Humphrey, I can start to live my own life the way I want to… I am now more active because this dog needs exercise and lots of it…  I now rest easier and so do my parents because Humphrey alerts me to my heart or seizure problems. He might snore, but it makes me chuckle before bed. He is just amazing.”

Motorcyclists can join the Charity Ride on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, at Storrington Lions Club, 2992 Princess Road, Inverary. Registration begins at 9 am. Single riders pay $30 each to register, and with a passenger, it is just $10 more. The event includes a three-hour ride through the countryside, a hamburger lunch, and door prizes. Anyone can participate in the Silent Auction, with all funds going to K4Paws.

For more information on K4Paws, visit the Kingston 4 Paws Service Dog website.

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