Health & Fitness

This Bellingham business is ‘offering a helping paw’ to veterans, kids and adults

Denise Constanten, owner of Brigadoon Assistance Dogs, trains Collin, a smooth coat collie, on how to use a garbage can at the Cost Cutter on East Sunset Drive in 2006. Bellingham’s Brigadoon Service Dogs provide service dogs to promote a more independent and enriched life for veterans, children and adults who need assistance.
Denise Constanten, owner of Brigadoon Assistance Dogs, trains Collin, a smooth coat collie, on how to use a garbage can at the Cost Cutter on East Sunset Drive in 2006. Bellingham’s Brigadoon Service Dogs provide service dogs to promote a more independent and enriched life for veterans, children and adults who need assistance. The Bellingham Herald file

Denise Costanten is founder and president of the board at Brigadoon Service Dogs in Bellingham.

She holds a certificate in canine studies from Bergin University of Canine Studies, among a wealth of other certificates and training. She has 40 years of experience in dog breeding and training experience.

She recently answered some questions.

Question: When did Brigadoon Service Dogs open?

Answer: August 2004.

Q: Why?

A: We provide service dogs to promote a more independent and enriched life. We change lives one partnership at a time by “Offering a Helping Paw!”

Q: How much demand is there for service dogs?

A: Since our establishment in August of 2004, we have placed 65 service dogs and established youth programs in a local high school and an alternative school for at-risk youth. We also have started a program for veterans and prison programs at the Cedar Creek Correctional Center in Little Rockand the Stafford Creek Correctional Center in Aberdeen, where the dogs live with the inmates who train them for the veterans.

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Brigadoon Youth and Service Dog program founder Denise Costanten, left, with short-haired Collie, Brandie and Sehome sophomore Cindy Sanchez, 15, with golden retriever Candi, 5-months, take the dogs out for a bathroom break during Life Skills teacher Shanon Casey's class at Sehome High School in 2007. Bellingham’s Brigadoon Service Dogs provide service dogs to promote a more independent and enriched life for veterans, children and adults who need assistance. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

Q: Who needs them?

A: We provide trained service dogs for combat veterans, children and adults with physical, developmental and behavioral health disabilities to promote a more independent and enriched life.

Q: What are service dogs used for?

A: We’ve trained dogs for children and adults with a variety of disabilities, such as hearing or visual impairments, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and people with medical conditions requiring dogs trained to alert to an impending crisis.

We have become involved with several youth groups, such as a camp for autistic children, the Parks and Recreation Youth Camp, Girl Scouts and home-schooled kids. We also participate in helping high school seniors with their culminating projects.

Q: Are you accredited?

A: In 2012 we received our accreditation with Assistance Dogs International and were recognized by the state Senate.

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Iraq War veteran Daniel McKenzie of Bellingham plays with his new puppy Pip at Brigadoon Service Dogs on Mission Road east of Bellingham in 2012. Brigadoon Service Dogs provide service dogs to promote a more independent and enriched life for veterans, children and adults who need assistance. Staff The Bellingham Herald file

Q: Is it true there is a wait list?

A: Yes, we are only accepting applications for combat veterans at this time. Our wait list for service dogs is currently at capacity.

We are temporarily closing our wait list and will not be accepting applications from new clients for service dogs. If you are looking for a service dog, please visit Assistance Dogs International for a list of alternative programs that might meet your needs. You can also continue to check our website for changes or updates to our application status.

Q: When you are accepting applications, what is the process?

A: To begin the application process, visit www.BrigadoonDogs.org and click the “Apply for a Dog” tab under the “About Our Dogs” page.

Once you’ve decided to submit an application, you may download and print the application provided. Make sure you’ve included all components of your application, including the $100 non-refundable application fee, and you can mail it to: Brigadoon Service Dogs, 4759 Mission Road, Bellingham, WA 98226.

Once your application has been received, you will be contacted within two weeks to set up an interview and home visit to learn more about your needs as a client and providing more information about the other aspects of the application process.

Staff also will tour your home and learn more about the potential service dog’s future home. During this visit, staff makes sure that it is a safe environment, they look at the space the dog will be required to work in and much more.

They will work with you closely to ensure that you are made aware of how you can make your home a more welcoming and safe environment for a service dog.

Q: So, what can I do while I am on the wait list?

A: While on the wait list, many clients begin their fund raising efforts. At Brigadoon, care, training, housing and feeding of their service dogs costs approximately $30,000 per dog over the two-year training period.

Clients are asked to raise $10,000 toward the cost of their dog. All fund raising must be completed by the time team training begins. Clients often have more than two years to reach their fund raising goal.

“We do not require our veterans to raise $10,000,” Costanten said. “We appreciate all that our combat veterans have done for our country, and providing a service dog at no cost is the least that we can do as thanks.”

Q: How long will I be on the wait list?

A: Once you are on the program’s wait list, you wait until Brigadoon Dogs has the perfect dog come through its program. Oftentimes, this can take more than a year because they want to match you with the right dog for your needs and your lifestyle.

On average, it takes two to three years from the beginning of the application process. Costanten said she hopes to reduce the wait period in the near future through increased grant funding.

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