For this episode of Community Conversations, we spoke with Sonny Madsen and Angela Moxley about K-9 Caring Angels. They also brought special guests Avicii and Freyja.
Q: What do you do here in the community – so how did you get started with the organization, and what all do you do? So, obviously, it’s more than one thing.
SM: We have K-9 Caring Angels, and the purpose of that is for the therapy dogs, to give back to the community. So we do things like – I know you’ve probably heard about Wally the firehouse dog – so that was one of the dogs we trained and donated to the fire department. He’s the first dog to ever live on-site, 24-hours a day with the fire department. We also train and donate service dogs to military families, children with special needs, and survivors of domestic violence.
We also – the therapy dogs do…
AM: Avicii does school – she goes to the elementary schools and we teach four and five-year olds how to greet a dog, when to approach a dog, how to meet them. They do Books for Buddies, where they go to the library and kids that are learning how to read, read to the dogs. Little things like that.
Q: So what does it take to train a dog to do this?
AM: They have to have basic obedience. They have to be able to be in a public place and not you know, be hyper or jumping, or barking – they still have to listen to you even when distraction is present. And they have to be okay around other dogs and being handled by people, because a lot of people, when we bring them, they want to love on them.
Q: So, tell me about the team that helps you train the dogs.
AM: The team is our Sit Means Sit trainers, there’s 14 of us now. And basically they volunteer their own time and they take the dogs in their home, usually for two weeks to train them completely, so that way we can transfer the authority to the new owner. Sometimes we don’t have an owner right away, in which case they sometimes even foster the dogs until we find a home for them. But it’s really neat – the dogs are trained by professionals, so when we hand them over, they already know how to do everything.
Q: So what motivates you to actually do all of this?
AM: It’s her baby.
SM: I started as a dog trainer, like I said we wear a lot of different hats, we also operate the Sit Means Sit Dog Training of Northern Virginia, and we created the 501(c)(3) Caring Angels, so that we could actually give back to the community. So most of the dogs start with the basic obedience, where they go through the – they have to have an excellent level of obedience, and from there they do the therapy testing, and that’s what makes it official.
So they have their Canine Good Citizen as a minimum from the AKC and then we take them right down the road over here to the fire department, where they do a lot of the basic obedience. They learn not to howl when the sirens are going, they go into malls, they go up and down elevators and escalators, they march in a parade -anything. So we do push our dogs to be the best of the best. But we started with a – we had a family member needed something that we weren’t able to provide, and we knew a service dog would be that. We just kind of changed my whole life from what I was doing to becoming a dog trainer.
And we came out here to Northern Virginia – Northern Virginia is fantastic, very dog friendly, and it’s just kind of taken on a life of its own after that.
Q: So, you also work with a community partner, the Staples Mill Animal Hospital. Tell us a bit about them.
SM: They actually sit on the Board of Directors – Michael and Stephanie Shane – they are amazing. They take – when we have what we call our Warrior Dogs – those are the dogs that we train, they go through all of Angela’s training, and then they’re donated to a veteran with PTS. The whole time – their shots, their immunizations, anything, their teeth, anything that a dog might need – even if it’s a spay or neuter, the Shanes at Staples Mill Animal Hospital will take care of them.
Q: So you have some events coming up here, why don’t you tell us a little bit about those.
SM: In the past we’ve gotten older dogs and trained them, and by older I mean like five or six months old, and then they go through the training – a lot of times they actually live with Angela. So she does what’s called a ‘board and train’ and she pretty much ties them to her hip.
AM: Bring ‘em everywhere.
SM: Everywhere, yeah, to get them up to a level of obedience before we can find a match that’s a good fit for what that soldier or that family member needs. We’re going to change it up a bit – we’re going to call it the Puppy Squad. So, we’re literally starting from puppies, which we’ve never done before. And we are looking for six really good candidates that are local – that are here in Prince William or in Fauquier County, or Fairfax, that have a medical need for a psychiatric service dog.
We’re going to have two Pointers, we’re going to have two Goldendoodles – they seem to be very popular – and then either two Labs or two Shepherds. If, in a perfect world all the puppies are born at the same time, and once the Staples Mills gives them the thumbs up that they’re healthy dogs, then we want to match them with soldiers and the goal is for them to work together as a squad. So that they can support each other the way that they used to while we are raising these dogs, and getting them used to all of the basic obedience, and then the public access test to get them into that level where they are official service dogs.
Q: So how can people get involved with your program, and can they also just donate to your program?
SM: Oh, that would be wonderful. Yes, they can go to K-9 Caring Angels – it’s K9CaringAngels.org – and they can donate. Or they can contact us directly. It’s Sonny.Angels@gmail.com. If they have dogs that they think have the qualities that they want, the best thing is to come in and have Angela do an evaluation and see if they’re ready to be a therapy dog. And then if they have a family member that they think we could help them with a service dog, just give us a call.
Check back for the next episode of Community Conversations.