ARF: Flynn Formerly Known as Elvis

by Wendy Hunter
Wendy Hunter is a volunteer with the Animal Rescue of Fresno. ARF shares with KRL their animal rescue adventures every month.

“I never expected to be anybody important.”
-Elvis Presley

When Elvis Presley first gyrated his way onto the stage of the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, he changed the world of rock ‘n’ roll forever. With his long flexible legs, and sneering lip, he drove every girl in the audience wild. Twenty years earlier, a swashbuckling actor with a dashing smile and a way with the ladies took Hollywood by storm. Errol Flynn was the matinee idol of his time, sword-fighting his way through films like The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, and The Adventures of Don Juan.

Elvis and Flynn were celebrity icons, and possessed many of the attributes that make for major superstars: charisma, confidence, and character. Both luminaries also had smoldering eyes, which they eagerly played to the cameras. Eyes may be the window to the soul, but they don’t necessarily have to be human. Sometimes, you can be four-legged and fuzzy, while showing the world your true optic colors. In this case, glimmering gold, shining brightly, like a pair of cat’s-eye marbles.

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rescue dog
Flynn formerly known as Elvis
Okay, I know what you’re thinking; where the heck is she going with this? Well, let me introduce you to Flynn, formerly known as Elvis. See the connection now? I know, it’s a stretch. Animal Rescue of Fresno pulled Elvis from a local shelter back in August 2017, where he was dropped off as a stray. With his gangly limbs and mesmerizing 24-karat eyes, he quickly became a volunteer favorite. His coat was one frothy swirl of chocolate, caramel and vanilla, all mixed up in a swirling frenzy. Elvis didn’t last long at ARF, because just as September was approaching, the good people from Dogs for Better Lives (DBL) arrived on our doorstep. This non-profit organization is based out of Central Point, Oregon, and has been providing Assistance Dogs to people across the United States since 1977. Up and down the West Coast, DBL searches for rescue dogs that are suitable for their diverse programs. This includes specialized training for Hearing Dogs, Autism Assistance Dogs, Program Assistance Dogs, and Career Change Dogs. Because he was friendly and interactive, Elvis was chosen as a possible candidate for a Hearing Dog. And with that, Elvis officially left the building.

Assistance dogs perform tasks that vary depending on the needs of the individual. Hearing Dogs (at home) are trained to alert people to household sounds, which are vital to everyday safety. Hearing Dogs (in public) are not explicitly trained to alert people to sounds (cars, sirens). Instead, the owner gains awareness of his surroundings by paying attention to the dog’s reaction. If his dog looks or turns in a certain direction, his owner will follow suit to check the situation.

Autism Assistance Dogs are experts in ensuring the safety of autistic children, and become the foothold that prevents a child from wandering or bolting into the street. These dogs provide constant companionship and a peaceful presence in the child’s life. Program Assistance Dogs accompany professionals like physicians and teachers to work, where they maintain a soothing atmosphere for patients and students with special needs. The happy Career Change Dogs have decided that working for a living is basically for the birds. They’d rather be on the couch with you, sharing slices of watermelon and binge-watching “Game of Thrones”. They just want to be a pet, enjoying all the things you do. Long walks on the beach? Yup. Road trips to the mountains? You bet. Sleeping in your bed and hogging the covers? Like you have to ask…

“I allow myself to be understood as a colorful fragment in a drab world.”
-Errol Flynn

As for Flynn, he was accepted into the Hearing Dog (at home) program. Now I know nothing about, well, a lot of things, but I positively know zilch about occupational dog training. And so I reached out to Andrea Woodcock, the Training Manager at DBL. Andrea has been a Certified Assistance Dog Trainer for 12 years, with seven of those spent at DBL. She says Flynn trained for roughly nine months, where he learned to alert his trainer to things like the oven timer, a ringing telephone, the smoke alarm, and a knock on the door. He was taught to detect where certain sounds were coming from, put his paws on the trainer to alert them, and then lead his trainer to the sound. Flynn also mastered basic obedience and house manners, which I’m pretty sure means no elbows on the table, and no talking with your mouth full.

I was curious why Flynn was chosen for the Hearing Dog category, instead of one of the other programs. Andrea’s response was, “Hearing dogs tend to be more energetic. They always have to be on and ready to work. If the smoke alarm goes off at 2 a.m., they need to wake up and alert their person. Autism and Program Assistance Dogs tend to be lower energy. Both types of these assistance dogs have jobs that require them to remain calm, the majority of the time.” Hmm, I’m thinking Jack Russell Terriers need not apply.

Although rescue dogs are the primary source for DBL, they aren’t used in the Autism Assistance program. Andrea says they’ve tried in the past, “But after several years, we discovered it was difficult to find dogs in shelters that were temperamentally stable enough for that kind of work.” She continued, “Currently all our Autism Assistance Dogs have been purpose-bred dogs, either donated from Guide Dogs for the Blind or Dogs with Wings. We’ve had one litter of puppies from our breeding program, and they’re all in volunteer homes. Once they are 14 months old, they return to DBL for four to six months of training, and will hopefully be placed in one of our programs.”

When DBL’s Assistance Dogs complete their training and are matched with an applicant, the trainer and dog travel to the client’s home and spend three to five days instructing them on how to continue the dog’s training. For these highly skilled dogs, DBL charges a nominal $50 application fee, and a $500 Good Faith Deposit, which is returned after one year. Not bad, considering it costs $25,000-$40,000 to train one dog. That, my friends, is money well spent.

For Career Change Dogs, DBL only adopts out to homes within a three-hour driving distance from their facility. And here’s the real kicker: there is NO adoption fee, though donations are always accepted. Andrea explains the process. “You must come to our facility and meet the dog, along with all members of your household, including any other dogs in the home. If it’s a match, we set up a time to bring the dog to your home. This allows us to provide a successful introduction of the dog into your household.” After 10 days, there is a follow-up visit, where DBL helps with any training issues that may have arisen. For the lifetime of their dogs, DBL offers training support, either over the phone or in home. Per Andrea, “Our goal is to help the adopter and the dog have a happy, successful life together.”

In the last 12 months, DBL placed 61 dogs nationally, which included 18 Assistance Dogs, 17 Hearing, and one Autism dog. This summer, DBL will open their 18,900 sq. ft. second training facility, with 40 new larger kennels and open training areas. The staff is excited, and the dogs are hoping for bigger biscuit bins.

And what became of Flynn? He was placed right here in California with a deaf gentleman named Gregory, and now shares yard space with a gigantic tortoise called Mary. With success stories like these, I asked Andrea what she loved most about working for DBL. She replied, “The most rewarding thing is seeing how a dog can change a client’s life. There’s nothing comparable to watching a client and dog practice the smoke alarm for the first time, and seeing the client’s realization that the dog will get them out of the house if there’s a fire.”
Flynn and his new owner Gregory

Andrea Woodcock’s dad is a registered vet technician, so pets have always been a part of her life. When she was five years old, she began telling people she wanted to be a dog trainer when she grew up. Now that’s what I call fate. When ARF pulled scruffy little Flynn from that shelter, he was rescued. When DBL selected Flynn for their Hearing Dog program, he was fated to rescue someone else. Fate may indeed sometimes be a cruel mistress, but today she kindly offers up a grin, and tips her hat to a golden-eyed dog named Flynn.

Enjoy this video about Better Lives.

Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section on Kings River Life, and the Pets section here on KRL News & Reviews. Check back every month for another animal rescue adventure from ARF. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to a local animal rescue. Learn more about ARF on their website.

Wendy Hunter has been volunteering with ARF for just over a year. She grew up in Fresno and recently became an Office Assistant with Fresno County. She has been writing all of her life, though never professionally, and currently writes personalized poetry for birthdays, weddings, pet remembrances, etc.


  1. Wow, what a great article! As one of Flynn's many buddies at DBL for the last 6 months, I can tell you he was a favorite (staff & Volunteer) around here too! I couldn't have written about him better myself ;) Thanks!

  2. Wonderful story - thank you Wendy and Kings River Life for sharing the story of Flynn's rescue!


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