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Service dogs leap to compete at games

March 12, 2007/The Patriot-News/ -- With graceful twirls and steady eye contact, Kathy O'Handly and Buffaloo danced in the state Farm Show Complex yesterday with the style of two "Dancing With the Stars" contestants.

When the charmed audience applauded, O'Handly smiled and bowed. Buffaloo, a 4-year-old golden Dachshund mix, simply barked his appreciation.

Dancing dogs, diving dogs and pooches doing the doggy limbo and kissing their owners highlighted the second and final day of the 11th PawsAbilities.

The event -- which attracted 2,200 people on Saturday and nearly that many yesterday -- raised money for Susquehanna Services Dogs, which trains and places dogs to help people with disabilities live more independently.

Service dogs can help people get around, retrieve dropped items or open and close doors. They can also help those with hearing loss, psychiatric problems, autism and other disabilities.

Nancy Fierer, Susquehanna Service Dogs' director, called PawsAbilities a fun event with serious intentions. She said she hopes this year's profit matches or exceeds the $35,000 raised last year.

"It costs $20,000 to properly train and place each dog, from its breeding and birth to training both the dog and owner," Fierer said.

"Our dogs work from ages 2 to 11 or so. We ask recipients to pay $5,000," she said. "If they can't, they pay at least $500. We have a scholarship program to help them."

In 14 years, the program, which is part of Keystone Children & Family Services, has placed 140 dogs, mostly Labrador retrievers and mostly to clients in central and eastern Pennsylvania. The usual waiting time for a dog is 18 months, Fierer said.

Yesterday, well-trained pooches were showing their stuff.

Malibu, a 2-year-old German shepherd owned by David McLaughlin, 10, of Lower Paxton Twp., won the doggy limbo. The dog, 21 inches tall at the shoulder, slithered her 67-pound body under a 12-inch limbo rod.

"She loves the treats and the attention," David said.

Nearby, O'Handly and Buffaloo danced to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," and Mary Kutulakis of Carlisle danced with Gus, her Australian shepherd.

"This is not waltzing cheek to cheek with your canine partner," said Kutulakis, who runs Fieldwood Dog Training Center in West Pennsboro Twp. "It's another venue to further bond with your dog. It's fun."

Loud barks, excited squeals and big splashes came from the Keystone Dock Dogs regional competition in a 40-foot-long swimming pool. One by one, 100 dogs built up speed running down a 40-foot-long dock, then leapt into the pool to jump the greatest distance.

Tim Kline of New Cumberland said Bella, his yellow Labrador, jumped 25 feet, 11 inches yesterday, three feet shy of the world record of 28 feet 10 inches.

"She loves this," he said, petting her.

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MARY KLAUS: 255-8113 or

How You Can Help

Volunteers are needed to be a foster family for a service puppy for 14 months, a puppy sitter for a few days when foster families go away and office helpers. To volunteer or learn more about Susquehanna Service Dogs, call Nancy Fierer at 671-7813. Information is also available at

Donations can be made to Susquehanna Service Dogs, 3700 Vartan Way, Harrisburg, PA 17110.

Susquehanna Service Dogs, a program of Keystone Children & Family Services and an accredited member of Assistance Dogs International, trains and provides service dogs and hearing dogs to assist children and adults with physical disabilities to become more independent. They have placed service dogs in 23 counties in Pennsylvania and several additional states, and have over 160 volunteers. To make a donation or find out more information about Susquehanna Services Dogs, contact:

Nancy Fierer, Program Director
3700 Vartan Way, Harrisburg, PA 17110

nfierer @

For over forty years, Keystone Human Services has been steadfastly Advancing the Human Spirit. Learn how you can help. Join us.


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