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Natural Awakenings South Central Pennsylvania

Keystone Human Services is No Ordinary Charity

Sep 29, 2016 11:44PM

For more than 40 years, Keystone Human Services has been offering much-needed aid to the underserved communities of Central Pennsylvania and beyond. The nonprofit has grown over four- and-a-half decades, providing specialized care and services to adults with physical and developmental disabilities, individuals experiencing mental illness, aging adults, children living below the poverty line and many others.

Keystone Human Services goes above and beyond in their mission to “advance the human spirit”, as is evidenced by the Susquehanna Service Dog Program. Ann Moffitt, vice president of community development at Keystone Human Services, says individuals living with a wide variety of illnesses or impairments may benefit from the help of a service dog.

“We have dogs who work with adults and children who have balance disorders, hearing loss, anxiety, mental illness, seizures, paraplegia and quadriplegia, physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder and more,” Moffitt says. “Having a service dog helps people with a wide range of conditions become much more independent.”

The Susquehanna Service Dog Program, which is supported, Moffitt says, by nearly 300 volunteers that donate more than 30,000 hours of their time each month, starts with puppies bred by Keystone Human Services or their organizational partners.

“We have what we call ‘mid-woofers’ who help with the whelping,” says Moffitt. “Then the mother and puppies will go and live with a volunteer in their home until they’re 8 weeks old.”

At 7 weeks, Moffitt says, the puppies begin spending time at the Keystone Human Services facility in Harrisburg, where they’re visited by members of the community volunteering as “puppy huggers”. “We want the puppies to be totally comfortable with all kinds of people, no matter how they look or smell,” says Moffitt .

Each puppy is raised by a volunteer for 15 to 18 months, and then spends several more months in general, then specialized, training, before being placed with the person they’ll be supporting.

“We have about 80 people on a waiting list, all with different needs, who have met the criteria to receive a service dog,” Moffitt says. “The goal is for each recipient to be happier, healthier and more independent. Studies show that people who have a service dog are healthier, more likely to thrive socially and less likely to have frequent hospital visits.”

It costs Keystone Human Services approximately $25,000 to whelp, raise, train and place one service dog, though recipients are only asked to provide $5,000 (or, in some cases, as little as $800.) The remainder, Moffitt says, is covered by a combination of individual, group and corporate donations.

Those interested in supporting the Susquehanna Service Dog Program can purchase a Team Training Kit for one dog and their human partner for a $200 donation, or provide a service dog with a harness for a $100 donation. For $1,500, donors can even name a puppy.

“We are about having people, regardless of their ability, be part of the community and be valued by society,” Moffitt says. “For some people, a service dog can help make that possible.”

More information about the Susquehanna Service Dog Program and other assistance, support and educational programs, visit See ad page 14

Kate Morgan is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.

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