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UNC program to train shelter dogs as support animals in jeopardy

Posted June 12
Updated June 15

Triangle program pairs shelter dogs with people living with mental illness

— Plenty of people rely on a dog or cat for companionship, but some people rely on them for something more. A program in the Triangle is trying to pair shelter dogs with people who are living with mental illness.

"You don't think about anything else. You just sit there with the dog, playing with the dog, loving the dog. You don't think about anything else," said Heather Nash, who has PTSD.

Nash is a client with University of North Carolina's Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health, a collection of programs to help people manage mental illness.

UNC PAWS is one of those programs. It takes dogs from local shelters and trains them to become emotional support animals.

Dozens of client have benefited from the program, which is now in jeopardy.

Dr. John Gilmore, the program director, said his staff has always pooled together leftover money and grants to help pay for UNC PAWS.

"Things have just gotten tighter and tighter and we need more help to keep it going," he said.

The group turned to a crowd-funding effort to raise $50,000 by the end of June.

"Through the dogs, people have a chance to do something meaningful with their day. To get out of the house, to interact with other people. To become a part of the community again," Gilmore said.

Gilmore said that while medication and therapy can only go so far, a dog can help guide clients even farther down their road to recovery.

UNC PAWS is about halfway toward it goal.

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  • Scott Patterson Jun 13, 11:06 a.m.
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    These are the kind of things our tax money should be going towards.