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Meet the Friends of Leroy Brown

A local day service program for adults with developmental disabilities has taken to heart the adage that dogs are indeed our best friends – pairing its participants with four-legged partners to create a unique niche.

Friends of Leroy Brown is part of the non-profit organization Innovative Opportunities. It uses a group of privately owned and trained dogs to teach dog-handling skills, responsibility, job skills and social skills to participants with disabilities. Last year, a second location opened in Bellefontaine, Ohio to provide dog handling training and community outreach in a new area.

“It’s really a cool concept.” said Janet Seward, CEO of the non-profit. “I want (participants) to get that opportunity to actually give back to the community by giving to somebody else, to feel a sense of pride and self-esteem.”

And the name? It’s not inspired by the 1973 Jim Croce song, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” This Leroy Brown is a beagle, and he’s certainly not bad. Several years ago, as a puppy, Leroy tangled with a raccoon and lost. Local veterinarian Nathan Metz saved him, and although Leroy’s injuries left him with disabilities, he beat the odds. Leroy recovered to earn his AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate, verifying his good dog manners. Leroy still lives with the Metz family, and Seward says he was part of the inspiration for the program.

Dogs, she thought, could give people with disabilities a way to connect with the community. This inspiration came from John Martin, director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities. Seward said Martin once told a story about how people would “look through” his son, who uses a wheelchair and has disabilities. So he got him a Bichon Frise, and suddenly people would stop and talk to him about the dog.

Participants in the program learn dog-handling skills, feeding, grooming and cleaning up after their canine counterparts. They also accompany the dogs on visits to nursing homes, hospitals, bookstore openings, and other events. All dogs in the program are certified as having good manners by the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program.

Working with animals can promote an all-around sense of well-being for people with disabilities, according to Erin Koenig, Behavior Support Specialist with the Allen County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Building relationships with animals creates positive companionship and enhanced self-esteem, she said.

And it’s good for the dogs, as the interaction and attention they get is highly beneficial for their health and happiness. It’s a win-win.

The non-profit also operates Leroy’s Place, a doggie daycare site for the general public, next to their Lima location. As participants gain dog-handling skills, they work at the daycare and provide basic training to its attendees. These participants, Seward said, learn job skills that could eventually lead to employment.

This article in a longer format was first published in The Lima News SALT magazine’s Feb./March 2016 issue.


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