Eagle Rare Life Award Nominee

Karen Shirk

Date Added

January 2nd, 2013


4 Paws for Ability, Inc.


Character Winner




The voting for the contest is closed

“Providing canine miracles to children and veterans worldwide”

When Karen Shirk was in her 20s, she was enjoying the start of her career as a social worker serving people with disabilities at a place called Camp Allen in Ohio. During this time, she was diagnosed with Myasenthia Gravis, a rare neurological disorder, which eventually confined her to a wheelchair, rendering her disabled. Encouraged by a nurse that a mobility service dog would help her with everyday tasks like opening/closing doors, turning on/off light switches, retrieving items, loading clothes in and out of the washer/dryer, Karen applied to three different service dog agencies and was turned down each time because she was deemed “too disabled.” Because Karen has a trach and uses a ventilator at night while she sleeps, agencies were concerned about the liability and her prognosis. Karen did not give up. After training a dog on her own (with the help of a professional trainer, Jeremy Dulebohn—now 4 Paws Director of Training), Karen realized that there were probably many people just like her who were being discriminated against and considered “too risky” because of their disabilities.
Once her disability went into remission, Karen was determined to start her own agency to help the most underserved of our society get service dogs. She named it 4 Paws for Ability, because she believed that a dog could give someone ability and take the “dis” out of “disability.” What differentiates 4 Paws from other agencies is that there are no age or disability restrictions or geographic boundaries. Since founding the organization in 1998, 4 Paws has placed over 650 dogs in seven countries with 95% of service dogs placed with children.

Karen has a rare life and deserves recognition for her efforts in helping hundreds of kids with disabilities and recent veterans with combat injuries get canine miracles to help them manage their disabilities and to live more independently. What makes Karen Shirk exceptional and unique is that Karen did not take a salary from 4 Paws until 2008 (10 years after establishing the organization), and that was because she decided to adopt three children from Haiti and obviously needed money to support them. After successfully adopting her first child from Bulgaria, she decided to add not one, but three Haitian children to her family. Initially, she went to Haiti just to adopt a baby. While there, two older children (who were siblings) approached her. Although they didn’t speak each others’ languages, Karen felt that she was being called to adopt them as well. Karen is raising all four children as a single mother. Karen believes every life is sacred and that second chances should be available to everyone and everything. Karen has adopted many dogs from shelters and rescue groups and trained them as service dogs. Karen is an excellent example and role model of someone who is concerned for human (and animal) welfare and the reduction of suffering.

Thank you for your consideration of Karen Shirk.