Pathways to Independence of Central Ohio guides interns through canine-oriented job training

GARY SEMAN JR.
gseman@thisweeknews.com
Intern Victoria Ichrist gets a kiss from Lula, an Australian shepherd, as she pets Killian, a husky, while working Aug. 19 at Pathways to Independence of Central Ohio in Worthington. The job-training business provides services for dogs, including baths, grooming, nail trimming, exercise and boarding.

After nearly five years, Karma's presence is significant at Pathways to Independence of Central Ohio.

The 7-year-old golden Labrador retriever is considered the inspiration for the founding of the job-training business that provides care and grooming services for dogs at 7070 Huntley Road, Suite D, in Worthington.

"She is the first one to meet and greet the dogs and owners when they come in," said Megan Ramage, co-owner of the business, which will mark its fifth anniversary in September.

Ramage and co-owner Stephanie Sanzo found their path to the business through their backgrounds in education at Worthington Schools.

Sanzo, a former intervention specialist at Kilbourne Middle School, said she was amazed at how her students had responded to Karma, a trained K-9 companion.

Ramage, who then was Sanzo's teacher's assistant, was just as impressed by the dog's ability to sniff out a range of emotions, from sadness to anxiety, in the students.

"She just has this sense," Ramage said, adding that the dog knows more than 40 commands.

So in 2015, they decided to build a business to help people in two primary ways: by training disabled individuals, referred to as interns, to develop job skills; and by providing high-quality service to dog owners, Ramage said.

"We know there's nowhere for them to go, even the ones who graduate," she said. "After graduation, if they're not on a track to employment, where do they go?"

"Pathways to Independence gives employment and transition opportunities to individuals with disabilities that utilize their individual skills and interests," according to the organization's website, pathways2independenceohio.org. "We value giving individuals the ability to enrich their lives and their community through career participation."

Services provided for dogs at Pathways include baths, grooming, nail trimming, exercise and boarding, from one day to 10 days.

Victoria Ichrist, who was gently combing Karma on Aug. 13, said she immediately felt accepted by the other interns and employees – and certainly the canines – when she joined Pathways to Independence.

"When they opened, I was one of their first (interns)," she said.

The 20 or so interns, who are 18 and older, are paid through Medicaid, Ramage said.

The business plan, which has taken a hit from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, eventually is to pay the interns from revenue raised by the business.

Pathways to Independence also has one part-time and two full-time employees, Ramage said.

COVID-19 has put a damper on those plans, as business has contracted to 50 dogs a day and 20 interns from 80 dogs a day and 50 interns before the pandemic, Ramage said.

"Before that, it was definitely where we wanted it to be," Sanzo said of business. "We're slowly getting back to where we were.

"It's going to take time, patience and support from the community."

She said clients have stepped up and brought their dogs in, even if services could have been put on hold, to show their support.

"We definitely couldn't have done it without them," Sanzo said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary

Interns Tori Sherman (left) and Maria Rudy use a squeaker to play with the dogs while working Aug. 19 at Pathways to Independence of Central Ohio in Worthington. The job-training business provides services for dogs, including baths, grooming, nail trimming, exercise and boarding.