https://vipdogteams.org/7-simple-steps-to-potty-train-your-puppyNancy Mitchell has long wanted to launch a nonprofit to train service and therapy dogs, but the demands of working, going to school and caring for her family meant she had little time for such a big endeavor.

The Camarillo native, who is earning her master’s degree in nursing online, finally realized there would never be a perfect time to turn her ideas into action.

The neonatal nurse’s change of heart came when she and her son, Nathan, 21, took their two labradoodles to a career training program for young adults with special needs at the Rio Mesa High School campus in May.

She said one of the female students was at first very standoffish around the dogs but then began to pet and cuddle the friendly pooches.

“The psychologist and teacher said there was no way they thought she would even let the dog come near her, let alone touch him,” said Mitchell.

That was the pivotal moment that pushed the 50-year-old to start her nonprofit. Two months later, VIP Dog Teams was born.

For now, the organization is helping train therapy dogs, but Mitchell said the goal is to also provide the much more stringent training required for canines to work as certified service dogs for people who have special needs in Ventura County and the surrounding areas.

Service dogs are trained to assist their owners with everyday tasks such as opening and closing doors and retrieving out-of-reach items.

Therapy dogs require less training than service dogs and have a very different function. Their owners bring them to hospitals, schools, hospices, nursworking homes and other locations to provide emotional support and stress relief to those they interact with.

Mitchell initially became interested in starting a nonprofit several years ago when her son, who has Down syndrome and takes courses through the career training program at Rio Mesa, told her he wanted a service dog he could bring to school with him.

Mitchell learned that the closest organization that trained service dogs was in San Diego, Little Angels Service Dogs.

“There’s not a lot out there,” she said. “We got on a wait list that was about four years long.”

Katie Gonzalez, the director of Little Angels, said the nonprofit has about 100 people on its waiting list, about 80 percent of whom are from out of state.

Gonzalez said there is a need for more organizations like Little Angels to meet the growing demand for service animals. A neighboring organization, Paws’itive Teams, trains service dogs specifically for individuals in San Diego County.

“There will never be enough service dog organizations,” Gonzalez said.

Mitchell and her family adopted two labradoodles, who they later decided were better suited to the work of therapy animals, not service dogs.

The labradoodles visit people at the Brookdale Camarillo senior living community, Pleasant Valley Hospital and other facilities through the Pleasant Valley chapter of Love on a Leash.

Love on a Leash coordinates opportunities for fully trained therapy dogs and their handlers to provide stress relief and emotional support to people in need.

Mitchell said she looks forward to helping prepare dogs to serve, both as therapy and service dogs.

VIP Dog Teams will offer a therapy prep class starting Sept. 10.

Class sessions will be from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays at Beach Dog Fun on Verdugo Way.

VIP Dog Teams will also with dogs and handlers seeking to volunteer through nonprofits similar to Love on a Leash.

“Therapy dogs must have basic obedience training, enjoy the attention people give them and be really good around other dogs. Any dog that has the right temperament can do it,” Mitchell said of the six-week course.

But the class is just the beginning.

Mitchell is in talks with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office about possibly starting a program where inmates help train service dogs.

The inmates, she said, would train shelter puppies for about a year and a half before the nonprofit provides the dogs with more specialized training. The goal is for the dogs to pass a public access test and other requirements outlined by Assistance Dogs International.

“I think a lot of good can come from this,” she said.

Mitchell isn’t alone.

Betty Bright-Martinez, the vice president of the nonprofit’s board of directors, worked as a counselor at Rio Mesa High School before she retired.

The Camarillo resident said she has a soft spot for children and adults with special needs, so becoming involved with VIP Dog Teams was a natural fit.

“I have a nephew who has Down syndrome, and I love dogs,” she said. “I can definitely see the purpose for an organization like this and what we are trying to accomplish.

“We’re very excited about our new endeavor, and we are hoping eventually to help many people in the community.”

Mitchell also has high hopes for the nonprofit.

“Everything is falling into place,” she said. “We definitely want this to grow.”

Those interested in learning more about VIP Dog Teams or signing up for the first training class can visit www.vipdogteams.org or email info@vipdogteams.org.