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The Ability Center in need of 'foster dog parents' as pandemic puts strain on typical agencies

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more difficult to house service dogs in training.

TOLEDO, Ohio — If you have a dog, chances are you already know how big of a role it plays in your life. But for some people with disabilities, dogs are not just companions, they're lifelines. 

Champ is one of about a dozen dogs The Ability Center of Greater Toledo is training to eventually become a service dog. And while dogs like Champ train, they are paired with people like Heather Sofo, who is one of many foster "dog parents" who play a key role in training service dogs.

“I’ve had him since July, so he and I are learning together. We come once a week for class with him and his three brothers," Sofo said.

Right now, The Ability Center is in need of people to grow its foster program. Since the pandemic hit, it has become more difficult to house dogs through its typical agencies. Many like Sofo have stepped up to take on dogs in training full time, which she said is incredibly rewarding.

“I think anybody can do it, as long as you have the time commitment. I am a busy mom, I work full time and I still make the time to do what we need to do as far as his training," Sofo said.

Representatives with The Ability Center said people with disabilities have already seen the plethora of challenges that tie back to the pandemic. They are hoping people realize how instrumental service dogs are for many people.

“People with disabilities face isolation anyways, so this time has just been really challenging to be able to connect them to the resources that they need,” Mallory Crooks with the center said.

“The selling point is the final reward. I had a friend who got me interested in this and she was able to see her dog all the way through to the end,” Sofo said.

If you are interested in taking on a foster dog, click here.