The human-animal bond and supporting organizations that serve the most vulnerable through a connection with animals have never been more important.

In partnership with Animalytix and JNA Advertising, the Animal Health Corridor is delighted to recognize Inclusion Connections/PawsAbilities as the 2024 Spirit of Service Honoree and provide two past recipients of the Spirit of Service award with an additional monetary donation.

2024 HONOREE | Inclusion Connections/PawsAbilities 

IC_Paws Combo LogoInclusion Connections has served individuals with developmental disabilities (I/DD) in Johnson County, KS since 2013. Its mission is to strengthen their lives by creating inclusive opportunities for community involvement, access to meaningful employment, and better options for supportive living. Everything Inclusion Connections does is designed to promote the independence of the individuals it serves. Its innovative and successful programs are unduplicated in Johnson County, providing opportunities to become healthier, explore the arts and friendships, learn job skills and connect with employment that is meaningful and sustainable, and to transition from school and the workplace to supportive living.

This year Inclusion Connections projects it will serve 200 individuals ages 16-40 with developmental disabilities (more than 90% live in Johnson County). Program participants all have developmental disabilities such as Autism, Down syndrome, and Cerebral palsy. All adult participants have very low income (less than $12,000 per year), with less than half with no earned income only Social Security Disability. Each student experiences negative physical, psychological, and economic outcomes associated with disabilities. None can drive, making transportation a tremendous barrier in accessing employment and other opportunities. Current programs include:

Education: cooking, life skills, fitness and social opportunities, art and theater classes, school break camps

Employment: skills taught through PawsAbilities employment program, with trainees making dog treats in our bakery, handcrafting bandanas, toys and other products, selling in our retail and mobile stores; daily job readiness and fitness classes; job coaching and placement into community-based jobs; transportation assistance to/from workplaces; Transition Academy prep classes for living independently. PawsAbilities is well-known in Kansas City as THE place for individuals with developmental disabilities to obtain the training they need to prepare for and be placed in meaningful, sustainable, paid jobs.

Supportive Living:  our young adults are still waiting to live more independently! Inclusion Connections is developing an innovative (first of its kind in Kansas!) community called BelongKC and has purchased land In Olathe, with a capital campaign underway. Other states such as Colorado have multiple projects in the works, while Kansas has zero. Inclusion Connections strives to put the needs of I/DD at the forefront as more and more individuals are living with caregivers aged 60+, setting up forced placements in the future. Having a choice of where to live is essential to fulfilled, independent lives.

As its model and strategies evolve, Inclusion Connections’ programs are efficiently and effectively meeting unmet needs. Its employment program, and now BelongKC, are specially designed to advance the social equity for our students by providing CHOICES leading to paying jobs and a pathway to greater independence.


2016 Award Recipient – Dr. Michelle Lem

The KC Animal Health Corridor and its partners were honored to recognize one not-for-profit organization in the KC region with the 2016 Spirit of Service award, Community Veterinary Outreach.


 Dr. Michelle Lem is a 2001 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), and the founder of Community Veterinary Outreach, a veterinary-based registered charity that has provided pro bono preventive veterinary care for animals of the homeless and marginally housed in Ottawa since 2003. This program has been successfully reproduced in other communities and is demonstrating how veterinary care can be leveraged to engage marginalized pet owners in social services and health care for themselves. Community Veterinary Outreach programs also operate in Hamilton, Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo, and Guelph, Ontario CANADA.

2017 Award Recipients - Heartland Therapeutic Riding & Lakemary Ranch


The KC Animal Health Corridor and its partners were honored to recognize two not-for-profit organizations in the KC region with the 2017 Spirit of Service award, Heartland Therapeutic Riding and Lakemary Ranch.

Heartland Therapeutic Riding (HTR) changes lives, one ride at a time as they serve adults and children with disabilities through equine-assisted activities and therapies. Their four-legged, 1,000 pound “therapists” provide a sense of freedom and mobility to participants that’s rarely experienced elsewhere in their lives. Participants make physical and emotional strides during their sessions at HTR that are taught by instructors who are focused on what they can accomplish, not on their limitations. The results are remarkable!

Since 1969, Lakemary has provided a place where children with intellectual/developmental disabilities learn and heal. Lakemary is one of a small handful of agencies nationwide which provides specialized schooling and a residential treatment facility for children (ages 6-21) dually-diagnosed with a developmental delay and a concurrent psychiatric disorder. The newest initiative, Lakemary Ranch, promises to expand therapeutic services to include a variety of garden and animal therapies, while augmenting educational, vocational and social opportunities for the children and adults served. 

2018 Award Recipients - Kansas State Animal Response Team (KS SART) & KSDS Assistance Dogs, Inc.

The KC Animal Health Corridor and its partners were honored to recognize two not-for-profit organizations in the KC region with the 2018 Spirit of Service award, Kansas State Animal Response Team (KS SART) and KSDS Assistance Dogs, Inc.

Kansas State Animal Response Team (KS SART)

KS SART LOGOKS SART is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the development of regional animal disaster preparation and response across Kansas.  It began as an initiative through the Kansas Veterinary Medical Association to build and support a unifying partnership between governmental, not-for-profits, animal industry, and volunteers. When a region's animal disaster response capacity is exhausted, KS SART assists in coordinating support from additional regional resources throughout the state.  KS SART and the regional animal response teams' collaborative efforts are the start to developing a state wide animal response coalition for Kansas.  KS SART is a unit of the Kansas Medical Reserve Corp, established in 2009 to attract veterinarians and technicians to animal response.  Volunteers from the veterinary community respond as a part of one of the regional animal response teams to specifically address animal medical needs following a disaster.

KSDS Assistance Dogs, Inc.

KSDSKSDS provides professionally trained guide, service and facility dogs for people in need of a canine partner to enhance their independence.

To graduate from the program, the team (student and dog) must train together on the KSDS campus or in the handler’s home town (commonly for guide teams) for one to three weeks. The estimated cost of each dog placement is more than $25,000. However, other than the initial $25.00 application fee, training is provided at no cost to the applicant. The students are housed in totally accessible housing on campus and most meals are provided. Transportation for classes off campus and training materials (special collars, leashes and harnesses) are also provided. Before graduation from the program, all recipients of a KSDS assistant dog must demonstrate their ability to give effective commands and maintain control of their new partner in public and pass both the KSDS Assistance Dog skills and the Assistance Dogs International Public Access test. They must also be able to provide a safe and loving home environment as well as feed, groom and clean up after their new canine partner.

After one year of successful team work, the graduate is given full ownership of their canine partner. The KSDS training staff provides on-going training support to all graduate teams including a group Graduate Retreat each year on the KSDS campus as well as individual help as needed. KSDS has trained and maintained over 500 teams (guide, service, facility). The youngest person to receive an assistance dog from KSDS was seven years of age and the oldest was 83. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, KSDS operates entirely on donations and no tax dollars are used to support these programs.

2019 Award Recipients - New Horizon Ranch & Rose Brooks Center

The KC Animal Health Corridor and its partners were honored to recognize two not-for-profit organizations with the 2019 Spirit of Service award, New Horizon Ranch and Rose Brooks Center

New Horizon Ranch


Serving individuals since 2007, it is the mission of New Horizon Ranch, to enrich the lives of individuals through equine assisted activities and therapies.

It is their belief that every individual is capable of greatness and they believe that horses can play an important role in that process! Riding and interaction with horses are not only fun, but create opportunities for kids, youth and adults to improve physical strength, relational skills, cognitive skills and communication. Their horse partners create a unique and motivating atmosphere where riders are encouraged to reach new levels of independence, responsibility and confidence.

They take pride in their family-oriented culture. Many parents have expressed that coming to New Horizon Ranch is the highlight of their child’s week. The entire family enjoys coming to The Ranch, because everyone is accepted. Whether you are a volunteer, client, or family of a client, NHR is a breath of fresh air; it’s a place to take time, relax and enjoy the beauty of the horses and nature!

NHR currently offers a variety of programs including Therapeutic Riding, Equine Assisted Learning, Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, and Summer Day Camp programs to individuals of all ages with physical, cognitive, social, emotional and learning disabilities.

Rose Brooks Center

The mission of Rose Brooks Center is to break the cycle of domestic violence so that individuals and families can live free of abuse.

Rose Brooks Center provides a safe place where individuals, families, and pets are welcomed, wrapped in support, and can begin to heal. Respectful, individualized care is offered, including advocacy, therapy, safety planning, finding a home, and connecting with community resources for health, legal, and financial needs. We extend into the community through long-standing and stable partnerships, offering immediate care, education, and violence prevention in hospitals, schools, courts, and throughout law enforcement. Because of this community work, we are able to reach over 14,000 individuals and pets each year.

Rose Brooks Center was the first domestic violence agency in the region to open its own free-standing, fully staffed pet shelter, PAWS Place. 

Rose Brooks Center believes in family and the human-animal bond. Our work every day is to keep families safe and help them rebuild their lives after abuse. And pets are part of that family too.

2020 Award Recipients - Retrieving Freedom & Symbiotic Behavioral Treatment Center

The KC Animal Health Corridor and its partners were honored to recognize two not-for-profit organizations with the 2020 Spirit of Service award, Retrieving Freedom and Symbiotic Behavioral Treatment Center.

The mission of Retrieving Freedom, Inc. is to change lives through the training and placement of service dogs with disabled veterans and children with autism.

Retrieving Freedom, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs to help people with a primary focus on training dogs to serve the needs of veterans and children with autism. They breed and train chosen dogs that exhibit specific traits necessary to perform tasks to help these individuals. They believe in matching the dog to the recipient.

Their training program isn’t designed to train each dog the same way. Instead, dogs are trained to meet the needs of their specific recipient. Each dog will complete one or more Impact Program throughout their training. These programs include attending elementary schools, correctional facilities, college campuses and summer camps. During this training, the dogs are learning specific tasks, becoming familiar with different environments as well as making an impact on each individual they come in contact with.  The dogs go through more than two years of training to meet Retrieving Freedom’s strict standards for a successful placement.

Retrieving Freedom, Inc. operates out of two locations, Waverly, Iowa, and Sedalia, Missouri as an accredited member of Assistance Dogs International.The service dogs trained by Retrieving Freedom increase the independence of the individuals they are matched with. Not only do they help with specific commands to mitigate that individual’s disability, but they also offer companionship and unconditional love.

SBTC_Hi-Res-transparent backgroundMISSION
Symbiotic Behavioral Treatment Center’s (SBTC) mission is to enhance the mental health and well-being of people through evidenced-based treatment and to aid in the physical and psychological recovery of abused and traumatized dogs with interactive training and the application of the human-canine bond in a therapeutic environment.

SBTC accomplishes their mission through a variety of programs, most notably by teaching a structured class to the post-traumatic stress wing at the Veterans Administration Hospital, alongside their registered therapy dogs, where they discuss the human-canine bond, what role it can play in lives and in recovery, and how it can be a vehicle to channel the skills patients learn from their doctors and social workers while at the hospital. Other programs include a Peace with Packs class where people working through stress and anxiety are paired with shelter dogs to work on mindfulness exercises with a licensed social worker, and their compassion fatigue and burnout training for animal shelter staff and first responders.

The Center
For the last 8 years, SBTC has facilitated their mission through programs in the community, at the VA Hospital, animal shelters, and classrooms. The most effective way to achieve their mission and maximize the reach to people and dogs in need is to build a facility to incorporate a multi-pronged approach to outpatient treatment. In 2019, SBTC secured over an acre of land in Lawrence, KS, to build their Center. SBTC will be launching a capital campaign for the building.

2021 Award Recipients - Going to the Dogs and Warriors' Best Friend

GTTD Web Logo-01

The mission of the Going To The Dogs organization is to successfully secure the safety and improve the well-being of law enforcement K9s while on active duty and beyond.

Going To The Dogs is a non-profit organization whose main focus is to purchase and provide ballistic vests for K9s in both Kansas and Missouri.  Since becoming established in 2015, they have made a significant impact to police and sheriffs’ departments as well as the Missouri Highway Patrol, by providing 60 ballistic vests for K9s that would not have otherwise had this line of protection.

In addition to ballistic vests, Going To The Dogs has purchased K9s for smaller communities who cannot afford the $10,000-$12,000 expense of a trained K9.  Going To The Dogs has made great strides in these two areas but there are still unprotected K9s in need of ballistic vests and communities that could better protect their citizens with a four-legged officer. 

Going To The Dogs works directly with law enforcement agencies, specifically the K9 handlers, to obtain the correct measurements of the dog so that a custom-made vest can be provided.

The cost of each vest is $1,000.  With limited budgets, many departments do not have the means to purchase vests, and often times, deploy their K9s into the front line without any source of protection.  This is where Going To The Dogs can assist.  Purchasing the vests is extremely important to this organization and to the departments in which they support. 

Going To The Dogs is based in Leawood, Kansas and all proceeds raised goes to the organization to provide protection for the K9s.


Located in Liberty, Missouri, Warriors’ Best Friend (WBF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to rescuing homeless dogs across the Kansas City area and training them to provide service to several vulnerable populations.

Operation Homestead Program 

For nearly a decade, WBF has provided highly trained service dogs at no cost to military installations and combat veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. WBF’s service dogs allow these veterans to accomplish personal goals like continuing education, employment and improve socialization skills with co-workers, friends and family.

Operation Schoolhouse Program
In 2018, WBF launched Operation Schoolhouse, a program expansion focused on providing facility dogs to service special needs populations in K-12 schools.  Placing a trained facility dog in a school classroom or counseling department offers several benefits for children and staff.

For example, mental health research has found that the human-animal bond can help with the following:

  • decrease feelings of isolation, anxiety, and agitation;
  • increase socialization and encourage communication and focus.

Our facility dogs master 13 commands, several of the commands specifically help students, faculty, and even parents who are experiencing anxiety or distress.

Our canines provide:

  • In classroom positive interactions
  • Comfort strategies for anxiety & emotional distress: The COMFORT command directs the canine to apply deep pressure therapy to a person experiencing anxiety or distress.
  • Trauma sensitive interactions and grief support
  • Socialization and language development for students on the autism spectrum or with intellectual disabilities
  • Culture building impact

2022 Award Recipient - Pawsperity


Pawsperity empowers struggling parents to lift their children out of generational poverty through training in the high-pay, in-demand trade of pet grooming, along with comprehensive wraparound services to address their unique needs.

About the Program
Pawsperity opened in 2016 to help parents with multiple barriers to employment find meaningful careers. By coupling training in the trade of pet grooming with comprehensive support services, the program has become an unexpected solution to the many problems that plague struggling families. To date, 96 students have graduated from the program, with 100% finding employment upon graduation. Graduates earn an average of $24/hour as professional groomers.

Students complete 644 hours of hands-on pet grooming training, along with weekly soft skills lessons covering topics required for successful employment: promptness, task completion, teamwork, etc. Complementing this training is individualized case management that helps each participant set and reach their goals. Life skills lessons offer practical solutions to challenges most students face, including how to build credit, budgeting and personal finance, health & wellness, and more. Parenting is a priority focus area of the life skills curriculum; community partners deliver accessible, hands-on approaches to understanding child development and raising kids with confidence.

Why Pet Grooming?
100% of Pawsperity's students live in poverty and arrive with significant barriers to successful employment. Most are young mothers with histories of abuse, incomplete education, and chronic underemployment. Pet grooming is often a wonderful career fit for adults emerging from this kind of background. The human-animal bond fostered through grooming gives students a powerful reason to show up to class, and later work, every day. From practicing emotion regulation to fostering patience and compassion, working with dogs requires students to grow in ways that traditional jobs do not.

2023 Award Recipient - The Pet Assistance Network of Topeka (PANT)

PANT logoSometimes unexpected things happen and you find yourself on the street with your furry companion in one hand and your belongings in the other.  Sometimes your furry companion is all that you have when you reach your golden Senior years and find yourself in need of additional medical/rehabilitation care that will need a temporary stay away from your home and you have no family, friends or means to board your furry companion. In 2007, concerned animal loving, volunteers began meeting every couple of weeks to explore how the community might resolve this situation. In 2008, the Pet Assistance Network of Topeka (PANT) announced their formation and mission statement as a solution. PANT is incorporated in the State of Kansas as a 501(c)(3), an all-volunteer not-for-profit organization without staff or office. Over the last 15 years, PANT has continued with their mission of maintaining the invaluable human-animal bond and helping those less fortunate within our community. PANT did this by providing shelter and veterinary care, to include spay and neuter, for the pets of individuals and families served by our partnering agencies, Topeka Rescue Mission (TRM) and Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging (JAAA). Our Mission is to help care for pets of our community members who have fallen into difficult times. Supporting these pets, in turn, supports their owners. PANT is helping families, two-legged and four, stay together during times when their owners are struggling with several hardships. 
Without the support of our donors, guests of TRM would face the heart-wrenching choice of permanently surrendering their family pet to the local humane shelter or continue to live on the street. Because for many, losing their furry family member is not an option. Our partnership with JAAA assists the elderly and disabled in our community who may experience an illness or medical procedure that would require them to spend time in the hospital or rehabilitation facility. Many elderly and disabled citizens have only their pets as companions. PANT provides peace of mind and ensures their pet is secure during an extended time away from their home. The support provided by PANT is temporary. As soon as the owners are back on their feet, they are reunited with their beloved pet.
The PANT Board of Directors have worked hard to increase both the number of corporate donors and public contributions in order to help those in need. As the necessity for PANT's services increase, we expect to see the number of pets entering our program to increase. Boarding continues to be the majority of our expenses, and that cost has risen. The generous support provided by corporate donors and public contributions is vital to the continued success of PANT and will ensure the pets in our community remain with their families, happy and healthy. 



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