Paws Seeking A Helping Hand

October 24, 2003
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WAYLAND — You wouldn't exactly say that Paws With A Cause is sitting up and begging.

But the nonprofit's new development coordinator, Deb Davis, says the program would make an excellent fit for somebody who's considering a bequest or setting up a funding vehicle such as a charitable remainder trust.

"It's a way to help disabled people maintain their independence, to get a tax break and to supplement your retirement income all rolled into one," she said.

"And you're helping dogs, too," she quipped.

Davis explained that over its quarter century of training and providing assistance dogs to people with disabilities, the locally based firm has received bequests from several estates.

Even so, she told the Business Journal that only about 1 percent of Paws' annual revenue comes from such sources, and it's her job to raise the nonprofit's profile among charitable givers and also, over time, to increase the funding in its modest endowment.

And how does one go about doing that?

"It's all networking," she explained.

As Paws' development coordinator, she is a member of the West Michigan Planned Giving Group, an association of gift planning officers from local charities. The organization holds regular technical seminars with professionals in estate law and planning.

Davis also makes sure that Paws' data in Guidestar — www.Guidestar.org, a national database for nonprofit organizations — is up to date.

Davis noted, too, that Paws is a United Way designation-only recipient. Davis said that means Paws is not a United Way agency, but that United Way recognizes its work and can serve as a conduit for donations directed to it.

And the reason that Paws needs to raise more money is that it long since has grown far beyond its beginnings as Michael and Candye Sapp's way of training dogs to help the disabled.

Paws began in 1979 when Michael Sapp Sr. offered to help two friends — Marty Jansen and his wife, Dianne — by training their Cairn terrier as a hearing dog.

News of his work with the helpful little pooch attracted other deaf and hearing-impaired people in the area who began seeking help in getting their own dogs trained.

That was the birth of Ears for the Deaf, which, over time, evolved into Paws With A Cause.

Today, Paws' dogs not only help keep the deaf alert to important noises in their households — from ringing phones to smoke detectors to clock alarms — but also help people who are wheelchair bound, subject to seizures, or who are afflicted by other disabilities.

Paws is headquartered at 4646 S. Division St. in Wayland and has satellite offices in Detroit, Chicago and Orlando.

It trains and provides assistance dogs all over the country.

Paws has a paid staff of 58 people — veterinarians, vet techs, trainers, maintenance workers, managers and office staff — in addition to Mike and Candye Sapp who are its full-time, salaried COO and CEO.

According to friends, however, it took more than the passage of time to get Paws off the ground and running.

Early on, while Mike was busy training the nonprofit's furry products, his wife worked several jobs to help keep Paws afloat.

When Ears for the Deaf came into being, guide dog schools pretty much made up the assistance dog community. But by reaching out to help a friend, Paws introduced the concept of the community field instructor to the emerging assistance dog industry.

In the early stages of its development, Paws conducted all hearing dog training in the clients' homes.

Service dog preliminary training was done in the trainers' homes, and finish work was completed in clients' homes and communities.

That changed in 1987 when the Telephone Pioneers of America gave Paws an 11,000-square-foot building with offices, a conference room, and 6,000 square feet of training area with space for 50 kennels.

From that headquarters, Paws' founders built their field instructor network in order to extend the organization's reach.

A dozen years ago, Paws began establishing a network of regional representatives across the country.

Paws opened a new national headquarters and training center in 1995.

That 24,000-square-foot acquisition tripled its work area, creating space to have 100 dogs in training, and providing room for a full office staff to handle the thousands of information requests received each month.

Paws dedicated a new 14,000-square-foot canine evaluation center in 1998 on the same property as its national headquarters.

This structure contains a full veterinary clinic and quarantine area. This quarantine zone permits Paws to bring new animals to the facility without the risk of infecting dogs on which the agency already has spent considerable sums in training.

a public relations associate with Francis Maketing who brought Paws to the Business Journal's attention, says whenever she visits the organization's headquarters she gets a bit misty.

"We live in a cynical world," she said. "But seeing the good these people do is really touching." 

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