Katie Ware takes Faustine for a walk Tuesday at Dogs for Better Lives. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

Dogs with a mission

Dogs for the Deaf expanded its mission years ago.

Now the nonprofit agency, at 10175 Wheeler Road, near the base of Lower Table Rock, has a more fitting moniker: Dogs for Better Lives.

Founded in 1977 in the Applegate Valley, the organization has rescued unwanted dogs, trained them and matched them with people needing assistance in 48 states.

In addition to its hearing-assistance dogs, Dogs for Better Lives trains program dogs — known in other circles as therapy animals — for use in schools, courthouses and doctors' offices. Assisting autistic children is a third role that has been developed in the past two years.

"We now have three robust programs," said Harvey Potts, chief development director for the organization. "The new name better encompasses who we are. We're not just for hearing assistance. We think our new name is our promise."

Dogs for a Better Life's current budget is just over $3 million. The agency has placed more than 1,300 dogs during the past 40 years. The life cycle for working dogs varies from 13 to 15 years for smaller breeds and 10 to 12 years for larger animals.

"We like to rescue them when they are younger, between ages 1 and 3," Potts said. "So after four to six months of training, they still have six or seven, maybe eight or nine years to provide assistance."

"Because of our roots here in Southern Oregon, there is a heavy emphasis in West Coast placement," he said.

With 75 percent of the U.S. population living with 50 miles of the coasts, he said the preponderance of placement is in Pacific, Gulf Coast and Atlantic states.

At present, the organization has a staff of 30, and more than 70 volunteers, whose roles range from exercising dogs to representing the agency across the country.

Dogs for a Better Life's primary income sources are individual donors, foundations and corporate partners. Service clubs are big supporters, as well.

Although the mission of Dogs for the Deaf remains a central component, the expansion into program assistance dogs provides new realms to reach for, such as aiding children who might be called on to provide court testimony.

Potts said the agency has matched three dogs with autistic children in the past two years.

"So far, we've only placed the autism assistance dogs in Southern and Central Oregon, but we eventually will go national," he said. "The age spectrum for children and their parents is 4 to 12."

Rescue dogs are acquired at shelters from the Canadian border to Mexico and as far east as Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.

"The challenge to go farther than that is that we drive," Potts said. "Once we go past those states, our success in finding the right dogs dwindles a little bit."

The organization broke ground on a $3.2 million expansion a year ago. The 18,900-square-foot building — nearly twice the size of the present 22-kennel location — will include 40 kennels, with heated concrete floors and office space.

Potts said the project is due for completion in April 2018, allowing the agency to add 11 jobs by 2020.

The organization's web address is now The telephone number is 541-826-9220.

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter at, and read his blog at Edge.

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