Service Dogs, Inc. of Austin, Texas

Spring Newsletter April 2020

Make downtime with your dog a PAWsitive experience. Learn fun behaviors, training techniques and enrichment with us! Join us on Facebook live Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 2:00 PM  or tune in to our YouTube channel and binge! Send us topic ideas, training questions and  photos and videos of you and your dog Quaran-TRAINING!  We’ll give you a shout out and bark out in an upcoming broadcast!

SDI Donates 18,000 lbs of Dog Food to Austin Pet Food Bank and Austin Humane Society

Woman and man load shrink wrapped bags of Purina ONE dog food from loading dock.

Volunteers from the Austin Food Bank received 9,000 pounds of dog food donated by Service Dogs, Inc.

As most of you know, Service Dogs, Inc. postponed our annual Mighty Texas Dog Walk from March 28th to October 31.  So we were surprised Tuesday of this week when the Austin American-Statesman contacted us about 6 pallets of Purina dog food that had arrived at their warehouse. “Please come up with a plan to move this,” their email concluded. This was 18,000 pounds of premium dog food, which Purina was going to give out as the title sponsor of our 2020 Mighty Texas Dog Walk. SDI holds the dog walk on the Statesman property, which is why our biggest sponsors ship product directly there. “When I contacted Purina, they told us to keep it and that they’d send more for the dog walk in October,” explains Sheri Soltes, SDI Founde

Two women wave while seated on pallets of shrink wrapped bags of Purina ONE dog food.

The Austin Humane Society also received 9,000 of dog food donated by Service Dogs, Inc.

r and President.  “Because the food was intended for the public, we decided to give it away to those most in need.” SDI contacted the Austin Pet Food Bank and the Austin Humane Society.  Overnight, they assembled volunteers to load up the dog food. “We’re so excited,” said Julia Dworschack, who helped load the 9,000 pounds of dog food going to the Austin Pet Food Bank. “With the economy down, donations of dog food are really low.  We will make sure this good goes to low income families and individuals experiencing homelessness for their dogs.” “We are going to offer this to our adopters and foster base, then are reaching out to our local surrounding shelters in Bastrop, Taylor, Williamson County, as well as Austin Bulldog Rescue to see if they can use it,” said Katelen Knef, Shelter Manager for the Austin Humane Society said. “There are people who cannot get out right now and hopefully this food will help. “For more on these organizations : Austin Pet Food Bank is a non-profit 501c3 organization dedicated to feeding Travis County’s under nourished dogs and cats. Austin Humane Society

The Dog Who Heals Me

My name is Heather Andresen.  I wanted to share how my Service Dog Nyland has changed my and my family’s lives and thank everyone who made this possible.

My background

I graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in clinical neuroscience and statistics. I also earned an MBA concentrating in marketing and non profit management and a Masters Liberal Arts.

My work experience includes over 15 years working as a vet tech and/or volunteering at animal shelters, as well as working in corporate sector marketing, strategic planning, and program management; non-profit development and alumni relations; and government (national and municipal) communications, strategic planning and program management.

Because of my disability I am unable to work.  It’s also been difficult for me to pursue the hobbies I used to enjoy, reading, traveling, cooking, food & wine tasting, education, family activities. All of these are more difficult, if not impossible since becoming disabled.

About my physical challenges

My physical challenges include chronic, intractable migraines that cause daily pain, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, vertigo, loss of balance, confusion, visual disturbances / loss of vision, inability to control body temperature, fatigue, focal seizures, aphasia, loss of hearing, etc.  I also have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Vascular Type (vEDS) – a rare genetic disease that creates a defect in connective tissue around blood vessels and internal organs.  This creates significant bruising and a risk for bleeding out, sepsis, stroke, etc. if I fall or have any minor trauma.

In 2004, I had 2 massive strokes because of the vEDS and its effects.

I also have intermittent hemiplegia (one-sided paralysis) and hemiparesis (one-sided numbness) because of the chronic migraine. I will suddenly lose the ability to feel or to control one side of my body. This is very dangerous if you’re standing or walking, because you just fall over. With the vEDS, if I fall, I could create a brain bleed, internal organ rupture or other significant, potentially life threatening complication from the trauma.It was not uncommon for me to be rushed to the ER for a CT or MRI  (head, neck and/or body) to ensure there were no complications after a hemiplegia induced fall. The hospital staff jokingly made a sign which said “Heather Short Honorary MRI Lab” because I’d been in so often that I’d essentially paid for the machine.

Vertigo is also a huge safety issue. I had become completely sedentary and unable to contribute to my household because the things I was physically capable of doing, like loading/ unloading dishwasher, laundry, etc. required bending over. Every time my head was below my heart, my vertigo would get so bad that I would fall, again creating a significant issue with the vEDS and bleeding.

I cannot control my body temperature. So, I will suddenly, for no apparent reason, overheat. We keep tons of ice packs on hand to cool me off so that I don’t have neurological complications from the heat, like seizures, losses of consciousness, increased migraine pain, etc. Unfortunately, the overheating is often accompanied by hemiplegia and/or vertigo. It was not uncommon for my husband, Scott, to come home to find me unconscious on the floor. I had been trying to get up to get the ice pack or turn on the ceiling fan, only to pass out, seize or fall and hit my head.

Another significant issue I had before getting a Service Dog was remembering to take my meds while my husband was at work. I would set alarms and create all sorts of reminders, but the neurological fog was so bad that I would still forget about 75% of the time. It is difficult to find a medication that works when you don’t take it.

My world shrank – a lot

I went from seeing my family at least once a week to only seeing them on birthdays and holidays. And, I went from going out with my friends and my husband almost every weekend to seeing my friends maybe once every year or two. Leaving the house had become too difficult and too risky, given the fall risks, pain levels, never knowing when the pain would get worse.

All of the activities of running the house fell onto my husband. Between chores and errands, in addition to his full-time job and caring for me, it was like he had 4 full-time jobs. And, I could literally do nothing to help. I couldn’t even bath/dress myself because the fall risk was too high.

Reaching for freedom

I wanted some freedom and independence, both in terms of doing some things for myself around the house and not having to rely on other people every time I wanted to leave the house.  My plan was to get a Service Dog trained for the mobility /vertigo assistance. Then, once we developed a strong partnership, I’d work with the trainers to see if we could add in any alerting tasks. You’ll see later in this response how that turned out 😉

I wanted some companionship.  I am at home all day, every day by myself. I love my cats; but they’re not as interactive as a dog and they cannot help me get out to interact with people more.

I chose Service Dogs, Inc. because: I researched service dog training programs on Assistance Dogs International’s (ADI) site, the internet and through a FB group for people with Service Dogs for migraines. I also got recommendations from members of that FB group for private trainers. I narrowed my list down to three ADI accredited programs and one private trainer. I “interviewed” all 4 options, asking questions about training methodology, kennel conditions, vetting of dogs, preparations for the handler, etc.

I traveled to Dripping Springs for my interview with SDI.  I spoke with Trainer Taylor Smith who showed me the training center and introduced me to SDI senior staff who answered some more questions. After all this research, I felt like SDI was the best choice for me for three main reasons:

  • a. The use of rescue/ career change dogs
  • b. The clear commitment to the dogs for their entire lifetime
  • c. The comprehensive handler training program

All of my options had a similar positive reinforcement based training philosophy and offered the dogs at a reduced rate or free-of-charge (except the private trainer, which was ruled out early on because of cost). The aforementioned criteria are what set SDI apart.  That and I just felt a connection to Taylor. I felt like I could trust her, both in terms of what she was saying to me and in terms of how she’d treat, train and care for my future partner. I did apply to a second program just in case the wait was unreasonably long. But, after attending orientation and learning more about how well I’d be trained while I waited for my SD, I removed my name from the other program’s waiting list.

My journey with Nyland & SDI

I first met Nyland at Matching. I met three dogs that day. There was something about Nyland, his temperament, his personality, and the way he looked at me… I just knew he was my dog. When SDI asked me to rank the three dogs, I immediately said Nyland was my first choice but struggled with differentiating 2 & 3.

When I got home, the two weeks between matching and getting the call from SDI were the longest two weeks ever. I literally burst into tears when they told me I’d been paired with Nyland. I loved him so much just after that initial meeting that I cannot even imagine what I would have done if matching had turned out differently. When I arrived at team training, I was so excited to see Nyland again. It was like seeing an old friend again.

The staff at SDI is indescribable.  They truly make you feel like you’re part of a family. They show a real compassion for our disabilities – like Taylor taking the time to train Nyland to turn on the ceiling fan in a weak voice, knowing that when I needed the task, I would be weak; and Ana working so hard to creatively address my inability to bend and training the dryer tasks.

They are completely committed to helping us be the best handlers we can be – like Susan’s dedication to finding solutions to any issue, adapting training to the handler’s abilities and capabilities, and Becky coming up to Fort Worth to help with an issue that Susan and I were having difficulty overcoming.

They never make you feel silly, stupid or like you’re making mistakes (even when you clearly do). The entire staff is supportive and understanding, doing everything to help you succeed.  You can tell that they LOVE the dogs. You can tell by the way that they interact with Nyland that they really do care about him. They continue to support you even after training. Whether it is cheering us on through FB when we do something well or Susan answering question via text/ email, I know that the SDI staff is always here for Nyland and me so that we’ll always have a successful partnership. I could write an entire novel about how Nyland helps me. I will try to focus on the higher-level concepts, not the specific tasks. Because of Nyland, I have been able to:

  • Help around the house more – I can now contribute to my family by doing things around the house like dishes and laundry which were previously more difficult, painful and/ or unsafe.
  • Avoid the ER – Nyland gets ice/turns on the ceiling fan to help regulate my body temp, stabilizes me when I am dizzy or have one-sided paralysis, alerts me (more on this later), helps me get up from a seated position, picks up dropped items, etc. He has helped reduce my fall injuries, which has kept me out of the ER.
  • Participate in family activities,
  • Help my husband with errands,
  • Increased my independence – like going to the doctor or other places on my own
  • Be more engaged with friends /family
  • Give my husband some security – Scott never knew what he was going to come home to find and was always very nervous if I left the house alone. Knowing that Nyland keeps me safe and brings me the phone if I do need help allows Scott to focus on what he’s doing and actually go out for fun without constantly worrying about me.
  • Improve my compliance with treatments – one of my neurological issues is memory loss and confusion. I am supposed to take a prescription 3x day. I would forget my afternoon dose, when Scott was at work, 60-75% of the time. Treatments don’t often work if you don’t take them. I taught Nyland to get the prescription bottle for me so that I wouldn’t risk falling. My brilliant pup learned on his own that I always cued getting the meds when this alarm went off. Now, the alarm has become his cue. So, no matter what he is doing, he runs off to get the bottle as soon as the alarm goes off. He also learned that I open the bottle and put something in my mouth when he hands it to me. So, if I put the bottle down without taking my meds, he picks the bottle back up and drops it in my lap. He’ll keep doing that until I take the pill. Last month, I didn’t miss one single dose.
  • Be less anxious about going out – I pretty much withdrew from life. I never knew when my pain was going to suddenly going to be so bad that I wanted to die (figuratively, not literally) or that my neurological side-effects would create a fall risk or cause overheating. Never knowing when that would happen made me anxious about going out and stressed and unable to enjoy myself when I was out. It basically turned me into a hermit. Because Nyland is so attentive to and in-tune with me, he figured out on his own what prodromes occur with me (prodrome = an early symptom indicating the onset of a disease or illness). Not only does he sense what is going on before it occurs, but he alerts me to it by doing a tap-tap-tap on my leg. If I don’t acknowledge him by sitting down if we’re at home or leaving if we’re out, he’ll become more assertive in his alerting. He increases the forcefulness of his tap-tap-tap; he’ll start to get kind of antsy, refusing to sit down; he’ll lay his head in my lap, still picking his head up intermittently to tap-tap-tap on me; and once at home he even barked at me. He even did this when I was in the shower – he did his tap-tap-tap on the shower door. I opened the door to see what he was doing, and despite his hatred of water, he stepped into the shower to tap-tap-tap on my leg. He got me out of the shower and onto the floor before I passed out, saving me from who knows what kind of injury from falling in the shower. Because of these alerts, I can leave the house, secure in the knowledge that Nyland will let me know if I need to go home early. I have been able to start going out with my friends, getting together with my family, running errands, and generally having a “normal” life without fear of passing out in the middle of the grocery store or something dangerous like that.
  • Increase my activity levels – knowing that I have a commitment to training, caring for and grooming for Nyland forces me to get up and about even when I might prefer to lay in bed.
  • My husband is more comfortable – he doesn’t get stressed out and call repeatedly if I don’t respond to an email, he is supportive of my being out and about on my own, etc. so he is more relaxed with me.
  • My friends and family invite me more places because they are more confident that I will be ok (and they want to see Nyland, LOL)


I am definitely happier, more engaged, more confident and more light-hearted now that Nyland is with me.

I would like to thank everyone who donates to Service Dogs, Inc.  You made it possible to receive Nyland, and my life back, free of charge!

If you are able to, please consider chipping in so the next person on SDI’s waiting list can get their own Service Dog and a new leash on life.



Heather & Nyland

Dear Service Dogs, Inc. Family, Like all of you, we are working hard to manage the impact of the current pandemic on our employees, graduates and community. As the situation with COVID-19 continues, we remain committed to the health and safety of our staff, dogs, and clients. We are taking actions that are thoroughly planned and appropriate for our Training Center and the welfare of everyone involved. We are maintaining graduate follow-ups through virtual meetings. We have cancelled on site client events such as Applicant Orientation and Team Training, training outings and community events until the public is allowed to resume gatherings. We rescheduled our 21st annual Mighty Texas Dog Walk to October 31, 2020. Although we regret the circumstances, we anticipate an especially festive dog walk on Halloween morning. As you know, this is a very dynamic situation.  We hope we can count on your continued support; it is critical in this time of uncertainty. Our Monthly Giving Program is one of the most significant ways to support Service Dogs, Inc. and the work we do to Build Better Lives.

  • Your gift of $10 a month provides food for our dogs
  • Your gift of $20 a month provides housing and essential training for our dogs
  • Your gift of $50 a month provides the in-home training and follow up for clients that our Trainers provide across the entire State of Texas

This consistent funding is crucial for our continuation in building better lives for Texans overcoming challenges through partnerships with custom-trained Assistance Dogs. We remain focused on our mission and know that this WILL pass at some point. We will get through this and be a stronger team for it. Thank you all for your commitment to Service Dogs, Inc. Dorey Petty Director of Development

Mighty Texas Dog Walk Moves to Halloween 2020

We are excited to share that the 21st Annual Mighty Texas Dog Walk will take place:

Saturday, October 31, 2020 305 S. Congress (Austin American-Statesman) 9:00 Gates Open 10:00 Walk Starts

All registrations will be honored.

On the bright side: Halloween morning is the perfect day to dress up for our Dogs Are Magic theme Costume Contests:

  • Best Team Costume

  • Best Individual Costume

  • Dog and Owner Look-a-like Costume

You have more time to build your teams and take home one of our Texas sized trophies.

We have more time to gather forces to break our 9th Guinness World Record.  A hint: You won’t believe your eyes!

Cooler weather!

From Hallo-Weeines to Labra-Thors to Ulti-Mutts – we cannot wait to see you all again!