By Lauren Wanko
Nestled in Burlington County, is a sprawling ranch where dogs roam in the fields. They’re cared for by a woman who trains them, so they may one day care for others themselves. Janice Wolfe is the founder of Merlin’s Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs for children and young adults with special needs.
“A dog can do what no medicine, no pill bottle, no human can do. The dog gives everything and …. asks for nothing,” says Wolfe.
Some of the dogs are bred. But the majority are rescued from shelters all over the country. “Four million dogs every year are being euthanized. Four million!” says Wolf. Her dismay led to a plan to rescue shelter dogs and train them behaviorally to be placed with a child.
She says there’s no “one-size fits-all” approach to pairing a child with a service dog. It’s a process that begins with an evaluation. Wolfe and her own dog, Wyatt, first meet a family to determine if they’d be good candidates for a service dog. Then the hunt begins for that perfect dog, like Brook, who Janice brought back from Arizona. What follows is a rigorous 2-8 month training process at the ranch, with help from other volunteer trainers, until they’re ready for their new home.
In the past 10 years, Janice has placed over 200 rescued and rehabilitated dogs. Each dog costs anywhere between six and eight thousand dollars. But here at Merlin’s Kids, every dog is placed, free of charge. The organization survives on donations, a team of volunteers and compensation Janice receives from her work as a dog whisperer.
“Who wouldn’t want to do this? I put every cent that I have into this and I will continue to do that because it’s just the best feeling,” says Wolfe. Janice’s ultimate goal is to expand Merlin’s Kids Ranch to include a teaching facility.