CHAMP Assistance Dogs

Empowering Individuals With Disabilities By Creating Canine-Human Partnerships

Article by Julie Brown Patton

Photography by Courtesy of CHAMP Assistance Dogs

Originally published in Clayton City Lifestyle

Some people concentrate on changing lives for the better. And for some, that means bliss comes with furry, four-legged friends. 

Take a closer look at how Pam Budke, CHAMP Assistance Dogs' executive director, along with the organization's board of directors and volunteers, help people with disabilities to live independently. There are plenty of ways to plug into this group's goodness and positive community impact -- 96% of the CHAMP workforce is volunteers.

What's the mission of CHAMP Assistance Dogs?

To improve and enhance life skills and promote companionship through placing specially selected service dogs with qualified individuals, and further, to always celebrate the mystery and joy inherent in the canine/human bond.

What does CHAMP stand for?

Canine Helpers Allow More Possibilities!

How long have you been working to place therapy dogs with their humans?

CHAMP was incorporated as a not-for-profit business in Missouri on Jan. 12, 1998.

What services are offered?

CHAMP provides educational programs, therapy dog teams, a puppy-raising program in St. Louis, a puppy-raising program in Columbia, Missouri, and an assistance dog training program at a Missouri Department of Corrections Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri.

For whom are the service dogs trained?

CHAMP Service Dog graduates have disabilities other than visual or hearing impairments; those include multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, down syndrome, spinal cord injuries, post-polio, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy and rheumatoid arthritis.

How long can an assistance dog work?

Service and facility dogs in good health often work until 10 to 12 years of age. A very high quality food, excellent veterinary care, exercise, grooming, keeping the dog at a healthy weight, and plenty of love and attention all help to increase the working life of a service dog.

Who owns the assistance dog?

CHAMP maintains ownership of the assistance dog throughout the partnership of the team. The graduate is responsible for the dog’s care and maintenance including food, toys and veterinary services.

From where does your funding come?

CHAMP service dogs are provided free of charge, thanks to the generosity of caring communities. CHAMP doesn't receive state, federal or United Way funding. They aren't affiliated with, and don't receive funding from, any national service-dog-provider organization.

Funding sources include donations from individuals, corporations, foundations, small businesses, social organizations, civic groups, school fundraisers and government employees, such as the Combined Federal Campaign and Missouri State Employees Charitable Campaign.

CHAMP also hosts fundraisers, such as trivia nights and Howl-E-Woof. They also receive gifts-in-kind, mainly from veterinarians, puppy caregivers and other volunteers.

How are therapy dogs and teams handled?

Therapy dogs come from breeders, shelters and foster care. During typical years, the therapy dog teams meet 1,700-plus people a month during scheduled visits to more than 80 locations that span hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, adult day cares, homeless programs, the USO, nursery schools, colleges, libraries, and homes for people with dementia, developmental disabilities, and mental illness.

CHAMP relies upon volunteers to help with:

  • Raising puppies
  • Serving as handlers of a Therapy Dog Team
  • Education presentations
  • Serving on the CHAMP Board of Directors
  • Special events
  • Fundraising
  • Outreach events
  • Administrative assistance
  • Assisting with CHAMP training classes


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