MyNewsMesa.com spoke with Founder and CEO Brian Daugherty of Mesa-based Arizona Goldens, the business with local, national and international ties through their clients. Combining their experience and expertise, Arizona Goldens raise and train service dogs for various medical reasons to help their clients have better quality of life.
MyNewsMesa: When did you start up Arizona Goldens?
Daugherty: Technically we started in September of 2006 and incorporated in November 2006.
MyNewsMesa: Why did you start Arizona Goldens?
Daugherty: When we were young kids, my mom would read us a Reader’s Digest story, you know the old leather-bound ones, of a young boy who lost his sight because of an accident. He went through the process of learning how to cope being newly blind.
For example, next time you sit down to eat at a restaurant, close your eyes before your plate is put down, then try to eat the meal with your eyes closed. Or how can you tell a $1 bill from a $5 bill just from the feel of it. Even though he learned all the nuances of living without sight, he was still reliant on family or friends whenever he wanted to leave the house to help him navigate his environment. The story goes on about how his family applied for him to get a guide dog, the bonding and training process of working with a service dog, etc. It also showed how the service dog allowed the boy to gain some of his former life back and more importantly his independence.
Fast forward eight years or so, and we started in the service dog industry as puppy raisers for several local and national organizations. Over the years, helping to build several groups, we saw a huge gap in the service dog industry that wasn’t being addressed by any other organizations. Many clients had unique disabilities that were not being helped by established service dog organizations such as Syncope, Epilepsy, or at the time Autism. There were a lot of other frustrations that clients with disabilities were having and were not being addressed by the industry.
So, after over nine years of training service dogs for other organizations, we decided to build our own company with unique training processes that we developed over the years to address the needs in the industry. Eleven plus years later, we are still changing lives and helping to improve the service dog industry.
MyNewsMesa: What about Arizona Goldens makes it different from other companies like it?
Daugherty: There are a lot of factors that make us unique. The first is that we are a company that works in an industry made up mostly by nonprofits. Although this made the early years somewhat difficult because we had to bootstrap the costs of building up a program ourselves, in the end it’s been an extreme benefit to our clients. It allows us to focus solely on servicing our clients to keep the lights on instead of focusing on fundraising or getting donations to function.
There are a lot of other benefits we offer to our clients such as:
- A service dog that is trained to the client’s disability as well as their individual needs.
- We travel to our clients. Which is beneficial to those who can’t travel because of their disability; or parents who can’t take time off work or leave their other children to attend a long boot camp.
- We conduct a 10 day 1-on-1 individual boot camp process to transition the service dog to the client and teach them how to work with their service dog for their disability. We work with them at home and in various other situations to help the clients prepare for all the required milestones and testing to become a full-fledged service dog team.
- We spend a lot of time and money making sure our service dogs receive the top veterinary care as well as medical clearances before going to the client; so they can feel secure knowing they are getting a healthy dog.
- We have a dramatically shorter wait time to get a service dog. Typically, our wait time is three to six months as opposed to the two to seven years from our competitors.
- We can work with multiple disabilities and train a single service dog to assist with those conditions. Most other organizations cannot place dual-trained service dogs which necessitate the client choosing to help with just one of their conditions.
These are just some of the differences that makes our company, Arizona Goldens LLC, unique and beneficial to our clients.
MyNewsMesa: Can you talk in detail about your experience and successes working throughout the country and internationally?
Daugherty: Traveling, and working with people around the world and throughout the U.S. is amazing but also very tiring. You get to work with different cultures, customs, ages, and people that most people are not exposed to on a constant basis. We are constantly learning and being exposed to new ways of living and adapting our training to the needs of our clients.
Probably the most memorable part of one recent boot camp was when a client “tricked” me into going to a sushi only restaurant during one of the outings in boot camp. Most of my family and friends know that I detest eating seafood, just the thought usually makes me gag. The client enjoyed putting the stress and pressure on me for a change and watching me squirm. In the end, I gave in and let the client order for me with the promise not to tell me what I was eating. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience and grew to be able to handle some seafood now without needing an extra napkin.
Many people think that by traveling all over working with clients, we get to “See the World” and enjoy like a constant vacation. We focus solely on the client’s needs and what will help them get through the placement process. That means we get to see very little of the places we travel to except for the airport, client’s home, school, typical daily routine, and sometimes even crashing for a couple hours at the hotel to get some sleep.
Traveling away from home for 10-12 days constantly is challenging and tiring, but we find solstice that we can work with individuals whom normally would not be able to get a service dog because they can’t travel. By us traveling to our clients, it makes their lives’ easier to obtain a service dog and the placement process more effective. It’s the people that we work with during this time that make the greatest positive impact, not the location we travel to.
MyNewsMesa: How does the client experience impact your business model and contribute to the success of Arizona Goldens?
Daugherty: This is a unique question, with a complex answer. The client experience from the point of initial contact through the successful completion of boot camp is critical to the continued success of the company. It’s a delicate balance of helping our clients see hope in a future, but also to be grounded in practical expectations of what a dog can do.
To be successful in doing our duty to helping the client with their service dog to overcome some of the challenges of their disability, the placement process is not always easy or fun. It requires a lot of work, trust, and practice with a mixture of both tears and laughter.
To help our clients be successful, we must coach our clients through tough or stressful situations. Along with giving them tools and techniques of utilizing their service dog to overcome those challenges. It can be even more difficult helping young kids through this process in addition to their parents. We strive to serve our clients as a coach. By providing them with the training, knowledge, tools, and experience to be able to change their lives or the lives of their child. Through working with our clients, we learn or develop new tools and techniques in each boot camp that continue to improve the ways we can help others.
MyNewsMesa: Can you describe in detail your animal assisted therapy program?
Daugherty: The several years of working in conjunction with OT, PT, speech, ABA, and other therapists in Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) was extremely rewarding. It was also extremely challenging that required a lot of creativity, patience, and work to be successful. Our AAT program is different than most other programs.
For those unfamiliar with the relatively new concept of AAT, this is when an animal is used to help facilitate certain therapeutic goals. In most cases the animal’s presence helps individuals participate in normal therapy practices. In our AAT program, we worked with a variety of children in conjunction with several disciplines of therapy. We actively utilized the service dog to work on the goals of the child alongside the traditional therapist.
Here is an example:
For those working to build grip development, we would have the service dog pull the child on a scooter board while the child held onto the dog’s leash. This helped with developing grip strength, core body stabilization, hand eye coordination, and verbalization all in a very fun activity.
We would work with clients on a short time basis, between 8 to 15 minutes per child. So, we had to utilize very highly trained, and adaptable dogs that could respond to different activities at a moment’s notice. This means for some kids, the dog had to be super active to race after the ball that was thrown but gentle enough to transition immediately to lying next to a 6-month-old child using the dog to be able to sit up on their own. The AAT team would typically work with between 45-50 kids a day, five to six days a week. The work we’ve done in AAT has positively impacted the lives of thousands of kids. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve taught kids to jump with a service dog in a couple visits that have been working on that skill for months or years.
To utilize a dog effectively in AAT requires a lot of experience, a great animal, and a huge bag of tricks to be able to quickly connect and achieve the client’s goals.
MyNewsMesa: How do you feel Arizona Goldens contributes to clients’ and animals’ quality of life by caring for animals and training them to help clients?
Daugherty: We put in hundreds and thousands of man hours working for and with our clients and their children to produce a highly-trained service dog. We spend tons more time developing training methods, systems, and support to help our clients maintain the service dog’s training, health, and adapting to their future needs.
We go above and beyond making sure we work with quality veterinarians over at Cobblestone Vet in Tempe to make sure all our service dogs receive top notch health care. We have those vets run extensive tests and clearances to make sure that each service dog is healthy to perform the necessary work for the client. While most organizations are satisfied with updated vaccinations, and if the client is lucky, the dog’s hips are X-rayed for dysplasia. We don’t think that cuts it for our clients. In every service dog placement, we make sure the dogs receive:
- All appropriate vaccinations
- Structural Check- X-rays of the hips, knees, elbows, shoulders, chest, heart, and most of their spine.
- Kinesthetic Check- Making sure they have full range of movement with no issues with their muscles or tendons
- Eye Check- To make sure there is no retinal deteriorations, glaucoma, cataracts, or any other common eye diseases.
- Ear & Hearing Check
- Fecal Check
- Heartworm Check
- Skin Condition Check
- Dental X-Rays and cleanings as needed
- Full CBC Chem 11 bloodwork Panel- to make sure that their internal systems are operating within normal perimeters.
These medical checks are done several times (except spay/neutering) during their development process. This is to ensure that the dogs we place are as healthy as possible. We feed them a good quality food that is available nationwide at a reasonable cost to our clients. Most of our service dog pups are raised by puppy-raisers in a loving home environment with bi-monthly training meetings. And we spend a lot of time with our pups and clients so we can understand the needs of both of them.
I sincerely hope that our clients appreciate the thousands of hours of training; all the sleepless nights when the pups were little; and the huge financial investment we put into each service dog we place. Most clients do appreciate this work, and our service dogs have saved countless lives throughout the past 11-plus years.
MyNewsMesa: What do you think is the most rewarding part of this business and why?
Daugherty: This business and industry is not for the faint of heart. Many people think it’s filled with playing with pups all day long. Although that is a very enjoyable part, it’s also a very small portion of what it takes. Working with animals is a 24-7, 365 days a year process. Factoring in all the time grooming, training, feeding, and what comes out the other end after feeding, it’s a tough job.
So, when we get a call from a parent, or see a parent post on social media that their service dog that we trained alerted to a seizure, or helped a child say their first words is very rewarding. Knowing that without that dog, their son or daughter may not be alive today. With all the negativity and tragedy in the world today, knowing that the work and long hours you put in training that service dog made a difference to change the course of another’s life in a positive way is just beyond words. That’s probably my favorite part of the job and why we push through all the tough times.
The second most rewarding aspect is working with a difficult pup, one that most people would give up on, have a light bulb moment and start to understand what you want them to do. That moment of clarity and purpose in another living being is amazing to experience. You work so hard with them, and to see the dog get the concept and get excited about performing the new task is very rewarding.
Editor’s Note: Parts of this Q&A were edited for clarity.
– Mesa resident Alyssa Tufts is a freelance writer for MyNewsMesa.com.