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Vandalia couple inspires 4 Paws to train Alzheimer’s assistance dogs

Four Paws for Ability is starting a new program to provide service dogs for families impacted by Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.

The new program comes after the Xenia-based nonprofit organization placed Diva, a 4-year-old Papillon, with John and Judy Kucharski, of Vandalia.

“I couldn't do it without (Diva). It takes me away from the situation a little bit,” John Kucharski said of his daily reality providing care for his wife.

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The Kucharskis’ lives changed dramatically in 2002 when Judy started showing signs of dementia. The couple, married for 47 years, has three children. 

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John said Judy is “a great mother and great wife,” but her illness has been “devastating.”

Judy and Diva (Contributed)

“It's the toughest thing I’ve ever been through,” he said. “If I didn't love her I wouldn't do this. It's devastating. But when you love someone. It's what you do.”

In addition to providing companionship for John, Diva is a comfort to Judy and encourages her to take daily walks with her husband.

“It helps the caregiver immensely,” John said.

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Karen Shirk, founder and CEO of 4 Paws for Ability, said seeing the difference that the pint-size dog made in the Kucharskis’ lives was an inspiration to create the Alzheimer’s Assistant Dog Program. 

“We actually developed the program because we saw what an amazing difference it made in (John’s) life,” Shirk said. 

The primary mission of 4 Paws for Ability is focused on placing trained service dogs with disabled children, but the organization, located at 253 Dayton Ave., has expanded its services to help veterans and train dogs for specific purposes, such as alerting their owner of a seizure or diabetic emergency before it happens.

Shirk said the new Alzheimer’s assistance program will include dogs trained to locate missing people.

“Once we place a dog that needs to do search and rescue, we'll use a larger breed for that,” she said.

For more information, visit 4pawsforability.org or call (937) 374-0385. 

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