ABCK9s offers service dog training and its facility in Lithia. The group is always looking for volunteer puppy raisers to foster dogs as part of their training

For people with physical and psychiatric disabilities, service dogs can be life saving. But, as Lithia resident Annika Charo learned when she determined that a service dog could help her, the welltrained animals usually come with a very high price tag, often upwards of $10,000.

So Charo started ABCK9s on her Lithia property with the goal of providing low-cost service animals to those in need. In order to keep costs reasonable, she is asking for the public’s help to train and prepare the dogs for their roles as service animals to low-budget clients.

ABCK9s hosts an average of 15 dogs at the training facility at a time. The dogs come from breeders and rescues and some are donated to the program.

“Each dog is temperament tested before coming into our program,” said Charo. “They must not have aggression, outstanding fear or any negative signs. They get socialized through extensive training to aid their future handler.”

Once Charo learns the dog’s personality, she determines what speciality to give them.

“We temperament test the dogs and find their strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “Larger dogs with well built frames are often used for mobility, Velcro-like dogs are often used for PTSD. The dog cannot be too sensitive to emotions with psychiatric disabilities or they can become reactive and become nervous or too sensitive as well.”

Depending on the disability, the dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to help their handler. For example, a dog can learn to be aware when a person is having a panic attack and can retrieve medication or guide to an exit and find a safe place for the person to calm down.

“A service dog is a medical device and in order to prepare them to be an asset to their future handlers, they must be exposed to many situations,” said Charo.

One of the most valuable parts of the training, according to Charo, is only possible with the help of volunteers.

“Puppy raising, where a family or individual fosters a dog in their home, is essential to any service dog program,” she said. “The dog learns individually and gets more work with house manners, basic obedience and house breaking.”

The fostering can last anywhere from three-12 months, depending on the household, and volunteers can come to weekly lessons where training is given step-by-step.

ABCK9s, located at 19065 Boyette Rd., also offers boarding, obedience and behavioral lessons to the general public including specific cases such as aggression or rehabilitation.

To find the group on Facebook by searching ABCK9s Dog Training or call 841-4512.

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Assignment Editor Kate Quesada started working at the Osprey Observer in 2004 after graduating from the University of South Florida with a masters degree in Mass Communications. Since then, she has held various positions at the paper and has been working as the assignment editor since January 2020. She lives in Lithia with her husband Mike and sons Dylan and Max and stays active in the community on school PTA boards and volunteering with local organizations.