In 2010, Dr. Michelle and Drew Schneider, the co-founders of Bear & Friends, rescued their first dog, Bear (hence, the name ‘Bear’ & Friends), from the local Humane Society. Bear and two of his siblings were the leftovers from the rest of their litter that had already been adopted. Since he was the only boy, the decision was made to take him--oh, and did we mention that he was being picked on by his sisters? Bear was immediately put through a series of trainings until he could easily understand commands and act like a well-behaved part of the family. Unknown at that time, his humble beginning was the start of Bear & Friends…
In 2011, Bear made his first appearance at an after-school program as a welcomed addition to the curriculum on compassion and empathy. After being present for only a few minutes, the children fell in love with him. During his first visit, Bear was the center of attention for doing tricks (shaking paws and giving high 5’s), being fed special treats (any kind of treat is special to Bear), and being a playmate and confidante to the children (Bear is a great listener, but not much good at talking back). Following the initial visit, children anticipated Bear’s visits, they waited (oftentimes, impatiently) to take their turn walking him around the play yard or classroom, and they showered him with loads and loads of hugs. Children who were typically-developing were even more attentive and happy in his presence; those who were socially awkward came out of their shell to talk to and walk him; and, those who struggled with negative behaviors calmed down immensely. Witnessing the positive impact that Bear had on the children was the single element that moved Drew and Dr. Michelle to push forward in their rescue efforts.
After a few years of taking Bear to visit after-school and pre-kindergarten programs, the decision was made to rescue more dogs and continue visits in various venues. Since 2013, many more dogs/puppies and cats/kittens were rescued (and even two fish that were left behind in an apartment) and began the process to become therapy animals or human companions. The organization was formed in 2013 under another name, but in 2015 the organization changed its name to Bear & Friends and officially became a 501(c)3 non-profit charity for the protection and welfare of animals. Because of what these wonderful animals have done for their human counterparts, Bear & Friends took that description a step further to include the welfare of humans as well!
In 2016, Bear & Friends evolved from working strictly with therapy animals, to being an animal adoption agency, and eventually to becoming a sanctuary for those that were unable to become CGCs or adopted. Bear & Friends has reached across county and state lines [throughout the Tri-State area to accept animals from shelters, from the pound, from veterinarians who were housing abandoned animals, from the street (animals aimlessly wandering), and from members of the community who could no longer feed and/or afford their pet]. As the animals were accepted into Bear & Friends' shelter and displayed a look of gratitude (and relief) on their little faces, it was obvious that the work of Bear & Friends would change forever. Bear & Friends has evolved into an organization of collaboration with other agencies, a resource for families and individuals, and a home for animals that need it.
Why use dogs to help humans?
Bear & Friends rescues dogs (and cats, and fish) that face uncertain futures in shelters, overcrowded animal control centers, and on the streets to help them find their true purpose in life. The rescued animals are fully vaccinated, spayed or neutered, groomed, micro-chipped (dogs only), DNA tested (dogs only), photographed, and put through training toward becoming Canine Good Citizen therapy animals, if possible. Sadly, not all animals are candidates for CGC, as their health, age, or demeanor could prevent them from meeting CGC standards. But wait....not all hope is lost! For animals that do not meet CGC standards, they still have potential to be adopted out with some learned manners, or they will have a "furever" home at Bear & Friends with love and cuddles every day. Conversely, for those animals that do achieve CGC status, they are scheduled to visit schools, early learning programs, veterans, nursing homes, and colleges and universities to help a vast array of humans to overcome an immeasurable number of circumstances.
Dr. Michelle's most recent research--How Educators Use Dogs to Support Children's Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Development--examines how educators integrate dogs into their classroom, and how the dogs affect children's development. Simply stated, dogs have an innate ability to help children develop social and emotional skills; to influence children’s creativity in writing and art; to motivate children to read; to support individuals with physical, mental, or medical issues; and to help alleviate fears and anxiety disorders. Research also shows that the potential for dogs to improve human lives extends into colleges and universities as therapeutic companions; into libraries as children's reading companions; and into courtrooms as companions for child and adolescent victims of crime. Dogs are considered man’s best friend for a reason, thus the non-threatening, non-judgmental, loyal nature of a dog is yet another key to a happier and healthier life for so many. Dogs are heroes in their own right....let's celebrate that!