When most people head to an animal shelter, they're looking for the next member of their family. Yet for one couple in KELOLAND, when they make that same trip, they're looking for something more- a dog with the potential to save lives.
Suede is just one of the many dogs that Tim and Kellee Matthews have rescued from shelters across the Midwest. While he was once a shelter dog, he is now a certified therapy dog that works as a literacy canine for the Meade County School District and also a Crisis Intervention Canine at Ellsworth Airforce Base.
"It's taken quite awhile to break down some barriers about the stigma of shelter dogs and purchased dogs or bred dogs, imported dogs are better quote unquote. But we've proven that to be wrong and we've proven that to the right people," Kellee Matthews said.
Tim and Kellee Matthews moved to South Dakota 5 years ago and started the South Dakota Canine Center, where the family does private boarding, training, and specialty recruiting.
"Tim's a licensed guide dog instructor and I'm a licensed vet tech and we just have always enjoyed doing things with dogs, for dogs, to help dogs have better lives. So as we were deciding to move here, we decided that having the land and the vision to do this for many more dogs was a good move," Kellee Matthews said.
Since then Tim has been traveling across 10 Midwestern states looking for dogs with a certain characteristic.
"The dog that is barking, screaming, jumping the highest and the loudest, is the one that is probably overlooked by everybody and that's the kind of attitude that I'm looking for, that agility, that spirit, the youth," Tim Matthews said.
After finding a dog that meets the criteria, the dog is brought back for an evaluation period, where the center tests dogs in any and all types of situations to see whether they have the drive and physical stamina that's needed to succeed.
"It can last anywhere from two days to two or three months. We've actually held onto a dog for a year before we found the right job for that dog," Tim Matthews said.
Jobs can range from detecting explosives and narcotics. The Matthews' dog, Dibs is specialized to search for bed bugs. Under the guidance of commands given by Tim in this exercise, Dibs searches and is rewarded with a toy.
"It's what we call 'toy stupid' where they'll do anything to get their toy, to find that toy, to keep that game going and we just pair that with the work that we're going to put them into and that's the kind of dog that the industry is looking for," Tim Matthews said.
The chosen dogs go on to work for bigger agencies.
"There are dogs in the CIA, the FBI, the sheriff's and police departments, all over, the US Embassy, overseas for bombs," Tim Matthews said.
While not all dogs are suited for the program, one has found a special home of its own.
Winter was rescued from a shelter, though she wasn't a candidate to become a working dog, she is loved by the family here at the South Dakota Canine Center.
"Our passion has been to rescue. Dogs in shelters are unsung heroes, there's thousands of them," Kellee Mathews said.
Yet no matter what, in the end it's all about giving dogs a second chance.
"When we look at all the lives that we've changed, canine especially, and people's for the better, they've made a difference in the world, these dogs, they've saved lives even if we don't have the statistics on that, they do," Kellee Matthews said.
"When we get the good ones to go through and we do, a lot, it's very rewarding, that's my reward," Tim Matthews said.
Tim says that it's not easy finding dogs that will fit in their program. He says he looks at about 2,000 dogs in shelters before he finds one to adopt and bring home. To find out more about the South Dakota Canine Center and journey's of some of the dogs, we've provided a link to the Facebook page
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