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
- 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.