The Sam Simon Foundation in Malibu rescues dogs from animal shelters and professionally trains them to become assistance dogs for people who are deaf or hard of hearing—as well as PTSD service dogs for veterans.
“Our founder, the late Sam Simon, who is probably best known for being a co-creator of ‘The Simpsons’ TV program, purchased a Malibu property in 2003 for the purpose of his mission: saving the lives of the dogs to enrich the lives of people,” explains Barb Velasquez, of Malibu, who oversees the assistance dogs program.
Velasquez is among three onsite instructors, in addition to Kim Meinhardt and Lori Ramey, who have all been involved with the foundation since 2004. The Malibu grounds serve as both a training facility and home for the instructors and dogs in training.
“Our professional trainers carefully select our dogs by evaluating them for temperament, health and eagerness to please,” Velasquez says. “Some are rescued from shelters where they enter a rigorous training program to become hearing dogs for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.”
Initially, Simon wanted to give dogs in need of homes the opportunity to channel their energy into tasks that could help people with a severe to profound hearing loss. In 2011, he expanded the scope of his mission to include PTSD service dogs for military veterans.
“The Sam Simon Foundation launched its service dog program in response to the growing need of veterans coping with PTSD as a result of their military service,” Velasquez says. “A service dog is not a cure for PTSD, but whose skills and companionship can be an aid for managing the symptoms and promoting well-being.”
Hearing dogs are specially trained to alert people who are deaf or hard of hearing to common household sounds, such as door knocks, telephones and smoke alarms.
“A certified hearing dog may accompany someone deaf or hard of hearing into public places, such as grocery stores and restaurants,” Velasquez explains. “In public situations, a hearing dog is providing environmental awareness by naturally paying attention to surrounding sounds.”
All dogs from local shelters are specially selected based on their temperament and breed.
“Some of the dogs in the program come from the shelter as young adults, ranging from 1 to 3 years old,” Velasquez says. “Depending on their size and energy level, they either begin training as PTSD service dogs or hearing dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing.”
The foundation accepts applications from all over the state for hearing dogs and PTSD service dogs.
“Once an applicant has been approved for our wait list, it can be up to a year or longer to be matched with one of our dogs,” Velasquez says. “There is no cost for our services and our requirements and applications are located on our website.”
For dogs that do not complete the training, “they are listed on our website for adoption,” Velasquez adds. “We generally place our adoptable or Career Change Dogs within 50 miles of Malibu.”
“While Sam Simon intended to create a foundation for training assistance dogs, the dogs that did not complete training were equally important to him,” Velasquez says. “We coin them Career Change Dogs and they make up 60 to 70% of the dogs who come into our program and eventually adopted out to loving homes.”
Many are already housebroken and some know basic obedience commands.
“These ‘near misses’ make wonderful companions,” Velasquez adds. “We can help match you with a lifelong canine companion.”
The Sam Simon Foundation Assistance Dogs Program is located in Malibu. For more information, call 310.457.5898 or visit SamSimonFoundation.org.