By Jacqueline Reynolds


Coach the second service dog under Werners Training

Coach the second service dog under Werners Training

Ann Werner always took a liking to training dogs. She was part of an obedience group to train her own dogs in Massachusetts for 20 years before moving to Estero nine years ago. Now retired, she has decided to dedicate her time to training puppies to become service dogs.

Werner joined Southeastern Guide Dogs, now known as Dogs Inc., in 2021. She will never forget the first time she saw her first trainee, a golden Lab named Lily.

“I went to a couple of meetings, and one of the staff did the home survey and let me know that they had a puppy available,” Werner said. “So, I took a ride up to their facility, and they came up with this little baby — nobody passes that up.”

Werner spent a year with Lily, training her how to obey basic commands, walk properly on a leash and behave in busy public settings. She is now a family dog that is a breeder for the program. The dogs with Dogs Inc. can go further into training to become seeing-eye dogs for the blind or emotional support animals for veterans or children.

Werner is now in the process of training her second service dog, Coach. Werner relates the training process to her career as a kindergarten teacher.

“One night at a meeting, they told me to tell them something about myself, and I said, ‘I feel like I’m back teaching kindergarten. I usually start with a child who doesn’t know a lot, and by the end of the year, they’re wonderful and they can do all these things on their own,’” Werner said. “It’s the same thing with the dogs. We start with puppies that don’t know anything and then, by the end of the time, I can take them anywhere and they follow on the leash on command.”

Knowing what the puppies will go on to do in the future makes it much easier for Werner to give them back after a year.

“It’s very rewarding,” Werner said. “People ask me how I can give up (the dog), but I know that going in. And then I read the stories of what these dogs mean to people.”


Serving the Senior Dog Population

Kenny and Sara James with Lila_ Mia_ and Marley after picking Marley up from True and Faithful Pet Rescue_ April 2023

Kenny and Sara James with Lila, Mia and Marley after picking Marley up from True and Faithful Pet Rescue, April 2023

While those like Werner serve the community through training puppies, other Estero residents, like Kenny and Sara James, serve by giving elderly shelter dogs a second chance.

The couple’s rescuing journey began in 2014 when they saw a case online about a dog named Rocky being passed from one low-income owner to another. They decided to foster him until he was adopted. They quickly fell in love with Rocky — who had no teeth, a bad eye and a limp — and he became a permanent part of their household until he died four years later.

“Senior dogs are overlooked,” Sara James said. “They’re dumped into a shelter, maybe if they have something that is a medical need. And there are so many people who do not have a succession plan. Maybe they’re senior citizens themselves, and they have dogs and they haven’t made a plan with their extended family about what happens to them.”

“With senior dogs, they’ve been in a loving home, and then all of a sudden, they find themselves in a shelter and there’s so much confusion.”

Rocky’s life inspired Sara to make it a mission to always give a senior dog a loving home. In the past 15 years of Sara and Kenny’s relationship, they have rescued 10 senior dogs. Some, like Oscar and Marley, were critically ill hospice dogs and lived less than a month after being taken home.

“The joy that they give us so overwhelms and outweighs the loss of losing one of our members of our family,” Sara said.

Both Sara and Kenny are local realtors, which gives them opportunities to talk to clients about adopting a senior dog, especially older residents looking for a companion to combat loneliness.

“Often (clients) have taken that on, and it just really gives them extra hope and energy and love,” Kenny said.

When neighbors ask the couple how they have time to dedicate to caring for elderly dogs, they explain that it’s not as much work as it may seem.

“We’re always amazed at how good our dogs are, how well behaved — they’re really not a lot of work,” Sara said. “Usually, when adopting senior dogs, they don’t have that puppy energy. They’re just so grateful. They really don’t have a lot of health issues, they sleep great, and they’re just so loving and funny. I mean, we laugh all the time.”

James said that, post COVID, more senior dogs are being displaced as people head back to the office and other activities. He encourages those looking to adopt to open their mind to a canine needing a safe place to live out their golden years.

“The seniors, they’re really low maintenance,” James said. “They just want to feel safe and loved, and it’s a win-win.”

Sara with Rocky the dog that began their journey of adopting senior dogs

Sara with Rocky the dog that began their journey of adopting senior dogs

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