Unsung Heroes 2015: Debbie Caplin

Debbie Caplin


Charlie Chaplin Caplin likely is the best source for information about Debbie Caplin’s years of volunteer work with Support Dogs, Inc., a nonprofit agency that uses trained assistance dogs to improve the quality of life for people with special needs — but the two-year-old Portuguese water dog is silent on the subject.

Fortunately, Cindi Blanke, programs coordinator at the agency, spoke right up. “Debbie is a wonderful handler, very conscientious, and she has very sweet dogs,” Blanke said. “Debbie and her dogs see kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and patients at the Missouri Baptist Cancer Infusion Center and they also participate in our Paws For Reading Program.” 

For the past decade, Caplin also has spent time training dogs, protecting dogs and rescuing dogs. She is a founding member of the volunteer advisory council at Support Dogs, Inc., and also helps evaluate dogs whose owners apply to the TOUCH therapy program. Plus, she serves on the board of the Animal Protective Association of Missouri, where she also volunteers, taking trained dogs to assisted living communities and to schools. 

Caplin’s love for dogs is not new.


“I’ve had pets all my life,” Caplin said. “I grew up in St. Louis, and I’ve had every type of dog imaginable. As a child, my first dog was Gigi, a poodle. I had a dog in college, I had a dog when David and I met, we had dogs when the kids were little. It wasn’t until they got older that I started hoarding. Oh wait – don’t print that!” Today Caplin and her husband share their home with five dogs, including Sookie, also a trained therapy dog. 

About eight years ago, Caplin and a friend started rescuing dogs. “I’ve found dogs on the street and placed them, and people call me when they need a home for a dog. We have a network of people,” Caplin said. “We’ve probably placed 25 dogs.” 

Six years ago, when Caplin got Sookie — also a Portuguese water dog — Caplin determined that the animal would be ideal for therapeutic outreach work. “Sookie is so compassionate and so loving,” she said. “That’s when I got involved with Support Dogs, Inc. and went through training with Sookie to get her certified as a therapy dog. We have been a team since 2011.”

Support Dogs, Inc has three divisions: Assistance Dogs, TOUCH and the Paws for Reading Programs. The TOUCH therapy program integrates pet-assisted therapy into treatments for patients. The organization reports that pet therapy “decreases patient recovery time and advances speech and language therapy.” Plus, the TOUCH program “encourages smiles, comfort, and patient/canine interaction from the people served.”

“I loved the TOUCH training so much,” Caplin said. “Sookie and I started in the infusion center at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, and now I am the coordinator for the hospital visits. We have 14 dogs visiting patients there, almost every morning and afternoon.” 

Caplin said Charlie Chaplin Caplin currently handles the duties at Missouri Baptist and Sookie visits hospitalized children and older folks at some assisted living facilities. “People are so happy to see these trained dogs, especially people in assisted living who had to give up their pets. They always want to talk about their dogs while they pet ours,” Caplin said. “Not a day goes by that people don’t say ‘thank you’ for helping them remember a good part of their lives.”

Caplin and her dogs also are part of a program at the Adolescent Behavioral Health Center at Mercy Hospital and they have taken part in the Paws For Reading Program at Glenridge Elementary School for the past three years. At the school program, the dogs are used as an incentive to help struggling students read.

Sometimes, Caplin and her dogs work two or three times a week, and sometimes, it’s every day. That’s OK with Caplin. “It’s so wonderful that I can share my animals and make people happy, make a difference in someone’s life.”

Beyond her work with Support Dogs, Caplin has been an active volunteer with a variety of organizations in both the secular and Jewish communities, including Gateway to Hope, Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Jewish Fund for Human Needs, Jewish Federation-Women’s Division, the Komen Race for the Cure, AMC Cancer Research, and The Riga Project, a program to modernize three large public hospitals in Riga, Latvia.