This blog post was written by Erin Purgason, Founder and Chair of Highland Canine Connect. The non-profit organization was formed one year ago, on February 27, 2019. In this article, Erin looks at the journey of the past year, and explains the future plans for Highland Canine Connect.
About 14 months ago, I was out to eat with a colleague and mentor. We were talking about business strategies. She said, “You know Erin, you guys have been in business for fifteen years and have done so much for the community, rescue dogs, and service dogs – on your own time and your own dime.“
I explained that’s who we are. That’s how we got our name out, that’s how our current trainers and students learn about dog training and behavior from the dogs that are not adoptable.
She went on to say something which really struck a chord with me. She said, “You should develop a non-profit status and let the people and community help you grow your cause.”
I went and spoke with several non-profits to understand the pros and cons of the business and took as much advice from them as I could. I developed a team and we brainstormed what our goals were, what our values were, and where we wanted this train to go.
One year later, here we are!
The challenges of starting a non-profit
I must say it has been like starting a brand new business. There are lots of moving parts, a lot of teamwork required and I have to continually learn how to accept help.
The other hard part for me about starting our non-profit is asking for money. I am still struggling with that. It’s definitely not (and never was) in my nature to ask family and friends, much less random strangers, for monetary help. It is, however, very humbling to find out how many people truly want to help and believe in your cause. There are truly lots of amazing people in this world, regardless of what the news says.
To start off our first year, I purchased an Aussiedoodle named Fergie. We also acquired two Labradors, Ranger and Mickey, to train them as possible service dogs.
Our team decided that our target groups were lower-to-middle class families, single parent families, or just individuals in general that did not have the time or means to fundraise $30,000-$40,000, or were strapped with financial burdens. We decided if these chosen people could fundraise $5,000, we would do our best to beat the bushes and fundraise for them to offset the cost of a fully trained Service Dog.
Educating the community about the power of dogs
Our next project was to get our dogs out in the community more through activities like our Reading Program. We wanted to educate people and show them what dogs can do and explore how they truly make us feel. I personally already knew the answer to that; my service dog team through our for-profit company had been visiting nursing homes, conducting demos, and visiting schools for years. I just wanted to share it with more people.
This is where our volunteers have just blown me away. It’s hard to find people with free time these days, and it’s even harder to find people with free time during school hours who like dogs. But we have a pretty consistent group who has dedicated their time to learn how to handle our dogs or even train their own.
For our active volunteers, our trainers will evaluate their dog for good temperament, then teach them how to get their AKC Canine Good Citizen certification – working on their eventual goal towards a certified therapy dog. We do try to give back to our volunteers as much as we can, because without them, our programs would not be possible.
We are currently visiting several schools in Iredell County with the dogs, either for reading programs (where kids read to the dogs), demonstrations for education, or visits to special needs children.
One of my favorite partnerships we have made this year is with Rainbow Kidz grief counseling. Rainbow Kidz is a division of Hospice & Palliative Care in Iredell County which provides free grief counseling to children who have lost their parents or other loved ones, and teaching them the stages of grief and how to handle it.
This counseling is done in a group setting and can result in extremely powerful moments. Our dogs sit with them in the circle, and for those kids that need and want it, they are there to relieve some stress and anxiety while the children are talking about how they feel.
Plans for our second year and beyond
We already have some big things planned for 2020.
I met with another non-profit a few weeks ago, Equuvation, which is a beautiful ranch here in Iredell County with equine therapy and other sensory programs dedicated to special needs children.
We are also training a service dog, Otis, for Paige Winter – a 17-year-old who was attacked by a shark right off the coast of North Carolina.
There is a rescue group in Mooresville, NC, who we may possibly be collaborating with for a big fundraiser towards the end of the summer. We are also looking into donating a Police K9 this year to a smaller department that doesn’t have a lot of funding.
We also have a possible corporate sponsorship in the works. With their financial backing and if all goes to plan, we will be able to provide two veterans with service dogs this year!
This is both so exciting and overwhelming at the same time, but I have a fantastic group of board members and volunteers keeping me sane.
I couldn’t be more thankful and I am so grateful for their help and support!
To make a donation, please visit our Donation page. Thank you for any support you are able to offer – our programs would not be possible without your generosity.