Mission: Support Dogs, Inc. is a national nonprofit organization that offers dignity, hope and independence by providing highly skilled assistance dogs to individuals with disabilities, and uniquely trained therapy dogs to serve the community.

The organization was founded to place assistance dogs, at no cost, with individuals with mobility-related needs. Through the years, the scope has expanded to include service dogs for mentally and/or physically disabled children, hearing dogs for the deaf or hard of hearing and psychiatric service dogs for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, the TOUCH (Therapy Of Unique Canine Helpers) program trains and certifies volunteers and their dogs to provide pet-assisted therapy visits at health care facilities, while the Paws For Reading program places dogs in elementary classrooms to encourage reading, writing and social skills.

History: Previously known as Support Dogs for the Handicapped, the 501(c)3 organization was founded in 1981 in Columbus, Ohio, by Sandy Maze, who suffered from muscular dystrophy. The St. Louis chapter was formed in 1983, and became the national headquarters in 1985.

Community Impact: In 2011, Support Dogs’ TOUCH program visited 75,000 adults and children in the St. Louis metro area, with teams making stops at more than 75 facilities, including Siteman Cancer Center and St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The Paws For Reading program visited more than 15 schools, in addition to city and county libraries. More than 500 volunteers help with events, raise puppies for assistance dogs and participate in pet therapy programs. The United Way of Greater St. Louis-member organization also offers public obedience classes and educational presentations.

What/When/Where: More than 75 percent of Support Dogs’ annual budget comes from public and private donations. The nonprofit organizes two major fundraisers annually: the Tacky Ball black tie gala in March and a trivia night and silent auction in August.

How to Get Involved: For more information, call 997-2325 or visit supportdogs.org.

On the Board: Angie Fink

As the owner of three dogs, Angie Fink understands how canines can make a difference in people’s lives. Looking for an opportunity to contribute in the community, Fink was able to combine that love with her nonprofit business background when she joined the board of Support Dogs in July 2010. “The dogs we send out into the community touch so many people’s lives. Everything we do is geared toward helping people who often are underserved or might not otherwise have those opportunities,” she says.

At the beginning of this year, Fink, who is a CPA with UHY LLP, became board president. She and the board work closely with executive director Bill Dahlkamp, development director Ann Weinerth and the rest of the staff to focus on the organization’s efforts and move forward in its goals. With services in high demand, Fink points to the need for increased funding to expand Support Dogs’ capabilities. “Right now we’re limited by our facility’s size with how many dogs we can employ into the community on an annual basis. We want to find ways to grow the programs and make more dogs available to the community.”

For the physically disabled who rely on dogs to improve the quality of their lives, the children who gain confidence in their reading abilities after reading to nonjudgmental canines, or the elderly in nursing homes who get a chance to spend time with a furry friend, Fink recognizes the impact of Support Dogs. “We reach an incredible number of people, and we want to do more.”

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