Family dedicated to service through Helping Paws

Caitlin Ritchie

The Michurski family has gone beyond simply serving their community by making their service part of their daily lives by training man’s best friend and placing it with those who often find themselves friendless and secluded from society.  The organization that helps them do this is Helping Paws, a nonprofit organization started in 1983 in order to lend a “helping paw” to those with physical disabilities.

In the organization’s simple one story building and warehouse on the outskirts of Hopkins, dogs are trained from puppies to adults as professional service dogs to help those in need of assistance. Within Helping Paws, there are many opportunities to volunteer and donate, and that’s where the Michurskis found that they excelled.
The Michurskis began their involvement at Helping Paws about six years ago when they trained their first service dog for senior Jack Michurski’s first grade teacher. Ever since then the family has been hooked to Helping Paws’ caring and generous nature.

Mrs. Judy Michurski volunteers at the Helping Paws’ events, spends time in their office, and works as their special projects coordinator, planning fundraisers and setting up their dog sponsorship program, the Blue Coat Benefactors, she said. “It’s such a great job,” she said, “it’s low key so it fits in with all of our schedules, plus it feels great to be able to help people.”

Both Jack and sophomore Katie Michurski spend an overwhelming amount of time helping out as well. “We volunteer at the events they put on and sometimes help with the dogs in public,” said Katie. The kids don’t do all the work though. “I’m the primary trainer,” said Mrs. Michurski, “but everyone knows the dog’s rules and cues, and training is just a part of our daily lives now.”
However, the family has also chosen to take on an even greater role as both fosters for training the dogs and breeders for the new litters of service dogs. They are currently training one service dog, Charlie, that will graduate to be with his new owner this month. They also own a breeding dog and find that that could be the best part of the entire program. “We get to keep the puppies for two months before they get placed with foster families and begin training,” Katie said, “we play with them and then watch them grow up all the way through until graduation, which is really cool.”
However, this joy seems nearly lost for in the end they must allow the dogs that they have spent two years training to graduate. “It’s difficult to give the dogs up after that,” Jack said. “But it’s worth it because you can see what a great difference you make in the world and the life of one person,” said Katie.
As a family the Michurskis have found their involvement with Helping Paws to be a changing experience. Often times for the physically disabled person, receiving a service dog means finally being noticed and gaining confidence, so their respect for these and all people has grown greatly, Katie said. “I have also realized how truly fortunate I am,” said Jack.

This work has allowed the Michurskis to help those truly in need of companionship and compassion. “Even after graduation it is so worth it to see the dog you trained with the person,” said Katie, “We have come to realize what a great thing it is that we’re doing.”  “Helping Paws is great because unlike other charities you can give to, we can see the outcome and the help and confidence we provide for others,” said Mrs. Michurski.