Betty Dearmore founded PAWS for Service in San Antonio, Texas in 1999. She was looking for training so that she and her dog, Lady, could become a therapy dog team and visit with people in hospitals and nursing homes. She worked with a couple of programs, but was not happy with the training that was used, so she built her own. Ms. Dearmore gathered a few of her friends and their dogs and began to meet on a regular basis. They developed a training program and a set of protocols that we continue to follow today.
Ms. Dearmore was raised in Northeast Texas and graduated from the University of Texas and became a teacher. In 1948, she married a man who became an Army Chaplain and “did a lot of work with the death and dying and with hospitalized patients,” said her daughter, Catherine Mergele.
In 1999, Ms. Dearmore used the skills that she learned as a teacher along with the skills she learned working as an Army Chaplain’s wife to develop the training for PAWS for Service. “She felt she knew what patients needed and didn’t think existing programs addressed those or really worked to make the bond between the owners and their dog stronger,” said Ms. Mergele.
PAWS for Service started as a small group of women and their dogs led by Ms. Dearmore, and has now grown into 132 teams making about 300 visits a month in the Greater San Antonio area. We visit patients in nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, VA facilities and schools for children at risk. PAWS for Service was instrumental in opening many hospital systems to understanding the value of having a therapy dog team visit their patients.
Our dogs range from small to large, from champions to rescue dogs. Our members come from all walks of life: professionals, business owners, retirees and students. They all have one thing in common – they understand the joy that dogs bring to people and what is possible when patients and children feel their unconditional love.
We continue to train new teams using the training program that Ms. Dearmore developed that blends basic dog obedience with an understanding of how to visit with patients in hospital beds, wheel chairs and other rehabilitative stages. We start by interviewing prospective teams to make sure that dogs have the right temperament for therapy work and that their owners are committed to our program. Classes run for 6 weeks and at the end, the new teams take an exam in order to be certified. After they pass the exam, they are placed in a facility that works with their schedule and are given an experienced mentor team to work with. Teams can also be certified as READ therapy teams and visit with children in learning to read in schools and libraries.
Betty Dearmore passed away at home on January 2, 2017 at the age of 89. Ms. Dearmore was a visionary and PAWS for Service is her legacy. Her dog’s name was Lady and the dog on our logo is named Lady Blue in honor of the first PAWS for Service therapy dog. We are grateful for the ground work that she laid and are honored to continue to service the community she loved.
We like to say that we spread doggie joy and we know that Ms. Dearmore would be proud.