HCI and Oberlin College LaunchU



Healing Companions:
A Conversation with Jane Miller ’83


Jane, please give readers your “elevator pitch” description of Healing Companions, and its many points of community impact.

There are three groups that we directly reach through our work. We: 1) rescue and train shelter dogs to be psychiatric service dogs; 2) transform the lives of those struggling with mental illness; and 3) provide basic dog training job skills to inmates.

Healing Companions was initially founded to provide new avenues of support for those suffering from debilitating psychiatric disorders, including PTSD, that prevent them from living functional lives on their own, by matching and training psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) specific to their needs. We work directly with Berea Animal Rescue Friends and bring rescued dogs to the Grafton Reintegration Center for an inmate training program. As part of the rehabilitation process, inmates work to train dogs and gain their Canine Good Citizenship certification. This program saves the lives of dogs by making them more adoptable, and allows us to match some of the dogs with our clients, but also serves to provide the inmates with business skills and supplemental training to enable them to better reintegrate into society upon release.

You have been running this business for a number of years. Did the idea come to you fully formed, or has it evolved over time?

My story begins in the mid-1990s when the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted. The ADA established that those severely limited in their ability to function due to mental illness qualified for psychiatric service dogs. It was just about that time when I started to incorporate the use of shelter or rescue dogs as PSDs into my practice. My clients’ lives were transformed. Even though they continued to struggle with severe limitations, having trained dogs by their sides allowed them to return to work full-time, go back to school, shop for groceries by themselves and give back to society in ways they had never imagined.

In 2013, I founded Healing Companions, Inc., as a non-profit organization to serve mentally ill people across the country by providing information about and access to PSDs. We train PSDs to meet the needs of individuals in order to mitigate the effects of their symptoms. Depending on the individual’s disability, PSDs are trained in tasks such as guiding a handler disoriented by anxiety, conducting a room search to alleviate fear of intruders or the unknown, providing assistance in locating an individual’s car when dissociating, interrupting a panic attack, obsessive compulsive behavior or nightmares.

The tasks that the PSD is taught to perform allow its owner to go out into the world, hold a job, study, develop healthy relationships, and essentially become able to cope with the ups and downs of daily life.

We are committed to high ethical standards and therefore see the value of intensive one-on-one, individualized training, which can be extremely time consuming. The organization trains only a limited number of PSDs simultaneously so as to guarantee the quality of the instruction each dog and handler is receiving. It takes 18-24 months to fully train each PSD.

That sounds both labor intensive and costly to the organization. What can the Oberlin/LaunchU community do to support you moving forward?

Please spread the word about our work transforming the lives of those with mental illness and providing job skills to inmates so that they have the ability to make livable wages upon release, while also saving shelter dogs’ lives.

We are always seeking volunteers. A number of Launch U participants, presenters and guests have given their skills, expertise and ongoing support. Some have made presentations for the inmates, assisted with our analytics, etc. We are currently looking for:

  • Website support (WordPress)
  • SEO expertise
  • Technical assistance
  • Photographers/videographers
  • Fundraisers
  • Board members

You can also make a difference by donating to provide our clients with the opportunity to be more productive and engaged in life. We welcome direct and matching contributions, sponsorship of fundraising activities, and the donation of facility use for events.

 

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A Celebratory Day!

rotary_clubHealing Companions, Inc. is proud to announce we have been awarded a grant from the Rotarian Gerald Prucha Fund by the Rotary Club of Lorain, Ohio!  We are very excited and would like to thank everyone who made this possible.

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Jane Miller Presented at the North Olmsted Lorain County, Ohio Kiwanis Club

333Jane Miller discussed the healing power of Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) and the use of shelter dogs wherever possible in matching clients with their healing companion. Jane assists with the basic training of the inmates and dogs at Lorain Correctional Institute. Here inmates and Jane work to instill the skills required to make the dogs more adoptable. When appropriate, the dog is then moved into the Healing Companions program to be trained by Jane along with the client. In this portion of the program they receive the public access and task training required to serve their new handler. Continue Reading →

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Dogs Help Overcome Mental Illness

Christina Jolliffe, The Chronicle-Telegram – Oberlin OH 5/20/2015

Healing companions selects, trains dogs that help patients cope with life…

It was a chore getting out of bed every day.  The “what ifs” echoing in her head were debilitating.  “What if someone is confrontational?” “What if I disappoint someone?” The anxiety Tracy Corso experienced every day was keeping her from living her life.  Everything changed when she…CLICK HERE to read more.

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Doreen Di Fiore Joins Healing Companions Board

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Doreen Di Fiore

We are pleased to have Doreen Di Fiore as our newest board member and future blogger.  This is just a short interview so you can all get to know her a bit better.

What is it about Healing Companions that most attracted you to the organization?

Healing Companions, Inc. is committed to raising awareness of the benefits of PSDs. I have long recognized the need for public education (professionals need it too!) about this specific type of service dog, as people are often largely misinformed about mental illness in general as well as the role of PSDs in improving the quality of life for those who struggle on a daily basis. Healing Companions, Inc. incorporates shelter/rescue dogs into the program, and that is fairly unique in the service world. As someone who is passionate about Continue Reading →

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