Saint Francis Service Dogs plans to grow in Roanoke

When people have a hard time getting around, they can turn to service dogs for help.  One organization needs a little help making that happen on a larger scale.

Saint Francis Service Dogs help pick up the pieces when life gets a little difficult.

“That could be opening the refrigerator, getting the telephone, going to get help,” explains staff trainer Marilyn Wilson.

It takes about two years of training before the dogs can be handed over to their new owners.

“Right now, every single one of our dogs has to stay with a volunteer every single night and weekend,” says Cabell Youell, the executive director of the organization.

Although only about 10 dogs are placed each year, there are about 40 dogs in the program at any given time.  Saint Francis is selective about the dogs that are placed; they have to be very healthy and sociable.  Dogs that don’t become service dogs go through a “career change,” according to Youell; but having so many dogs at once means the organization uses hundreds of volunteers.

So the organization is raising three million dollars to build a facility that will house more dogs.  Saint Francis has already raised half of that, but now it’s going public with hopes to raise the rest of the money. 

“Part of it will be a kennel, part of it will be office space, part of it will be training space,” explains Youell.

The building will also have an apartment for a live-in kennel manager.

“It gives us the security of knowing that the dogs are looked after and well cared for and someone is here,” says Wilson.

Saint Francis will still try to place the dogs with volunteers, but this will give the organization an opportunity to keep more dogs in general.  The building will provide space for up to 30 dogs in training.

Construction will begin in May on the 18-acre property in Roanoke, and the group hopes it will be finished by November.  The group still needs to raise more money before that can happen.

“Everything we do, we raise money for,” says Youell.  “We do not charge for our dogs, so it’s very important that the public support our efforts.”

It costs Saint Francis between $10,000 and $20,000 to raise each dog, but it saves each new owner between $80,000 and $100,000 in healthcare costs.  But in many ways, the help these dogs provide for their owners is priceless.

“Our partners tell us that they’re less lonely, they’re less anxious, they’re less depressed, they have the courage to go out and do things.  The dogs give them a connection to other people, so they have something to talk about, they don’t feel nearly as isolated,” explains Youell.  “They’re not only helping them physically, they’re helping them emotionally.”

Source: WBJ7

To learn more about Saint Francis Service Dogs or to make a donation go to their site


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