West Cork native Jennifer Dowler tells Marie Nolan that her charity has a five-year waiting list for assistance dogs
‘WE need funds to help children walk before it’s too late.’
That’s the impassioned message from Skibbereen woman Jennifer Dowler who set up Cork-based charity Dogs for the Disabled 10 years ago.
Since then – and without any government funding – the charity has trained 120 dogs to improve the lives of adults and children living with disability throughout the country.
This fiercely-driven mother of three and her team trained 25 dogs for people of all ages and with a range of needs last year – five more than in 2015.
The demand is huge and growing, with a current waiting list of five years for an animal.
Jennifer says: ‘That’s just too long.’
They raise €300,000 a year through their own fundraising efforts, but if you consider the cost per partnership is €15,000, it’s clear the challenge is relentless.
Jennifer admits there was a moment in the past she considered closing their doors for financial reasons, but by far the high points make everything worthwhile – specifically knowing that they have changed so many children’s and adults’ lives for ever.
‘Seeing the children walk often for first the first time and watching them get stronger blows me away,’ she says.
Jennifer previously ran a successful private dog training business in Cork, called Puppy Power, but having also worked in the assistance dog industry for 12 years, she felt ‘something was missing.’
‘Training pet dogs was easy but I needed more of a challenge,’ said the woman who loves being around dogs and understanding them and is known as the Dog Whisperer to the countless families she has worked with.
‘Life-changing’ is how a Bandon mother describes the difference lab/retriever George has made to the life of her daughter and their entire family.
Eighteen-year-old Ceri Jeffers suffers from an extremely rare degenerative, neurological condition which affects her mobility and makes it difficult for her to walk independently.
But thanks to stability dog George, from Dogs for the Disabled, she is enjoying a new found confidence and independence – and Ceri’s mum, Isla, is quick to highlight the ‘incredible’ work of Jennifer.
As is Geraldine Monaghan who is mother to seven year old Joseph who will get his dog this month after a five year wait.
Joseph, from Castletroy, Limerick, has cerebral palsy and his mum says Harvey will ‘transform his life’ and see him walking without a mechanical device.
Jennifer was nominated for this year’s Cork Person of the Year (incidentally the award went to fellow Skibbereen natives Gary and Paul O’Donovan), which was surely nice recognition of the work she does?
‘Yes, but I don’t do it for the recognition. I do it because if I was in this position I’d need others to help me. It’s about being human and helping each other make life a little easier.’
The number of charity scandals over recent years has impacted on them like many other charities. ‘Almost immediately, I’ll see a drop in our income after a scandal and, whilst I completely understand why the public have lost their trust in charities, I would urge people to invest a bit of time getting to know the charities they support and ask questions. If the charity won’t answer the questions, support a different charity.
‘There are great some charities across the country doing great work with tiny budgets. Think clever, if a charity is sending you post all the time or doing huge fundraising campaigns ask how are these campaigns being funded?
‘Money is hard earned today and in light of all the charity scandals it’s very important that you choose a charity that is open, transparent and does what they say they do. If you’re deciding what charity to support ask questions, get to know the charity, as a donor you can decide how your donation is used.
We need funds to help young children to walk before it’s too late, so we always have a ticking clock in our heads!
‘We generate approximately €300,000 a year through our fundraising efforts and this is raised mainly through small fundraising events such as coffee mornings, collection, sponsored runs etc. We receive no government funding and the competition for grants is very high as all the big charities have dedicated staff just doing grant applicants.
‘We focus all our efforts on producing the best partnerships we can as that is more important to us than how much money we have in the bank.’
Jennifer stresses that volunteers are the life of their charity: ‘Everyone has the power within them to make a difference to the world we all live in. By donating €5 a month to sponsor one of our pups or even doing a two to three hours once a year at one of our local collections, everything makes a difference and is valued.’
She stresses that the charity needs to grow to tackle the five-year waiting list – to volunteer, make a donation or simply find out more see dogsfordisabled.ie