Amy Jo Kinyon
Larisa Ballard and her family are minus one of their members. Recently, their youngest, Maddie left the nest and moved in with a new family.
Maddie came into their lives almost a year ago and quickly became a part of the family. Now, Maddie has a new owner and a new title – service dog. Through Canines for Change, Ballard was able to equip Maddie with skills needed to help her new owner deal with the challenges that come with epilepsy and other health complications.
Ballard can now add the title of puppy raiser to her list of credentials. After months of working with Maddie and integrating her into the family, she was able to fulfill the mission of Canines for Change, to “provide highly trained service dogs that enhance the lives of children and adults with disabilities by empowering them to maintain active life-styles.”
A casual question from a co-worker at Lansing Public Schools started the process with Ballard and her family’s lives changed for the better.
From the first day Maddie was brought home, the Ballard family went above and beyond with Maddie, taking her to sporting events at Potterville Public Schools and even taught her a bit of American Sign Language. Maddie was even blessed at church. Along with epilepsy, Maddie’s new partner has hearing and vision challenges that the Ballard family was not aware of until the first meeting.
“The things we did with Maddie ended up being very needed for the man she was partnered with,” explained Ballard.
Even Maddie’s church attendance proved useful. Vince, her new partner is becoming ordained and Maddie will attend services regularly.
Ballard is planning to become a puppy raiser once again this fall with a new canine and hopes others will become interested in helping others through service dogs.
“I think others should really contemplate doing it,” said Ballard. “It’s a blessing, but a huge time commitment.”
For those who may not be ready to bring a new puppy into their life, Ballard said Canines for Change is open to donations. The organization provides all the supplies to the puppy raisers, including a kennel, service vest and dog food.
The whole process is one of education — for the puppies, for the puppy raisers and also for the public. Ballard has encountered those who do not understand the role of a service dog and try to treat the puppies as they do regular dogs. Those who have service dogs may have disabilities that are not visible to others, explained Ballard.
“Service dogs should be thought of as an extension of the person, just as a wheelchair or seeing eye cane,” said Ballard. “You woudn’t go up to a seeing eye cane and pet it or grab a wheelchair without asking.”
For more information on the Canines for Change organization, find them on Facebook or visit