(WYTV) – For our Hometown Heroes this week, we are highlighting a non-profit group that puts dogs to work to help others.

The group calls itself the PAWS Therapy Team — PAWS stands for Providing Affection, Well-being and Support. It is an organization of trained therapy dogs and their owners, offering help where they can.

Erikka Sampson: “This is Harper. She is our Goldendoodle. She just got groomed today.”
Angela Moschella: “And this is Ellie.”

Moschella, Sampson and their pups are members of the PAWS Therapy Team. Moschella serves as president.

“I actually started working and training my first therapy dog when I was going to school to be a counselor,” Moschella said.

Moschella has been involved in dog therapy for about six years.

The non-profit she leads is coming up on its two-year anniversary with 36 handlers and 32 dogs involved. All handlers volunteer their time, providing support in a wide range of areas.

“Just the presence of the dogs, you can tell there’s a difference in the room before you walk in the room and then when you’re there. You notice that,” Sampson said.

“We do mental health facilities, we have dogs that go to court once a week, we have dogs that go to JDC and visit the kids there. We are very frequent at Children Services and go multiple times a month there. We have a lot of dogs that do individual libraries, so they go to and do reading programs at local libraries in Mahoning County. We do a lot of nursing homes,” Moschella said.

In some of these areas, the dogs are providing a very helpful service in difficult times. Moschella explains how they help with children.

“We work with kids who have been through a lot and they don’t want to talk to an adult but they will talk to a dog because they know the dog is listening, but the dog isn’t really going to talk back to them. So sometimes it’s just easier for them to do things like that,” Moschella said.

She also cites research on how children struggling with reading benefit from reading to a dog.

“They actually improved their reading levels by at least two. So if they were reading at a third-grade level, they went to reading at a fifth-grade level,” Moschella said.

Both handlers say they find their volunteer work, and their pups, incredibly rewarding.

“It’s like watching your own kid, you’re so proud when you walk away because I’m thinking, ‘I can’t believe you know how to do this. I can’t believe you just did that. You made these people feel this way.’ So it is a very good feeling,” Moschella said.

“You’re just so proud that your dog is a part of it and is able to do a service. Like she said, it’s a win-win situation when you love dogs and then you can put that with community service,” Sampson said.

They do hope to grow their team and expand their efforts. If you’re interested, they usually do training in the fall and will post information prior to it, but until then, they suggest obtaining a CGC (Canine Good Citizen) certification from a local trainer. Your dog must have that in order to participate in the intensive two-day training. If you’d like to get in touch with the group, head over to their Facebook page.