TLC service dog and veteran owner

Tender Loving Canines

Who is Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs (TLCAD)?

TLCAD is a small nonprofit with a profound impact. They train service dogs to help and heal people in dire need, FOR FREE! Their mission is simple, to transform lives with service dogs. But how they achieve this mission is downright incredible. Every life they touch in the process is positively affected by the experience, from pup to prison yard. They’re not kidding when they say: “we build bridges to independence by transforming the lives of wounded veterans, individuals with autism, their families, their communities, and the incarcerated individuals who train them.” 


Read on to find out how they began, what they do, who they benefit, and how we support our favorite organization in San Diego.

How TLCAD began?

Their story began in 1998 when a group of people came together with the common goal to train service dogs for those seeking a fuller, more independent life. The following year, their dream became a reality when TLCAD became an official 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Then in 2007, TLCAD earned accreditation from Assistance Dogs International (ADI)… and that’s a big deal. Why? This specific accreditation process is a pillar of ADI and is extremely difficult to obtain. In fact, you can’t even be a member of the ADI if you’re an individual or for-profit business, you have to be a nonprofit and pass their rigorous evaluation process. They only accredit assistance dog programs that adhere to the highest standards in all aspects of their operations, including ethical training and treatment of dogs, clients, and follow-up care.

What Does TLCAD Do Exactly?

We’re so glad you asked! In a nutshell, they prepare service dogs from a young age to meet the unique needs of wounded veterans and individuals with autism. This is achieved by utilizing a custom approach to training where they match the skill set per the client’s unique needs. In the beginning, they were able to rely on a network of community volunteers who dedicated their time and homes to train dogs for placement. By 2014, this model proved too unreliable, inconsistent, and difficult to scale. TLCAD needed another option to address the growing needs for more service dogs in our communities. Thus, the prison training program began, a wild concept that makes a whole lot of sense. By partnering with correctional institutions to have inmates train the soon-to-be service dogs, TLCAD was not only able to increase the number of available service dogs, but rehabilitate and educate inmates simultaneously. 

TLCAD teaches incarcerated individuals to train service dogs by utilizing effective, humane, and positive reinforcement training techniques based on behavioral science. Service dog candidates live with the inmate trainers, offering them the responsibility and experience of caring for and training a dog. Evidence demonstrates that these skills increase flexibility, communication, and social skills, while reducing violence in the prison and the number of inmates who reoffend.

TLC dog with three trainer prisoners

Who Benefits?

Its cliché to say… but everyone! TLCAD’s three programs all build off one another and their results have been nothing but groundbreaking.

At Ease - service dogs are custom trained to help veterans with PTSD, TBI, and/or mobility limitations gain independence and reintegrate into their families and society.

Leash-On-Life - service dogs are matched to individuals with autism to assist with a variety of behaviors related to safety, socialization, communication, and the ability to adapt.

Facility Dogs - service dogs are prepared to serve vulnerable populations and victims of crime. Facility dogs are carefully paired with professionals that serve populations who benefit from animal-assisted intervention or therapy. Each facility dog has the potential to transform countless lives through therapeutic activities facilitated by their handler in health facilities, schools, and courtrooms.

It’s crazy to think that all of this good is created from such a simple idea, but it once again proves that “dogs have the gift to heal us and they truly are man’s best friend.”


What’s Kahoots' Role in All of This Tear-Jerking Goodness?

As the story goes, it all started with an email. In 2018, we received a personal message from one of our long-time customers who mentioned their volunteer efforts with an amazing organization here in San Diego. We could sum it up, but here it is, word for word.

“I’ve been volunteering for Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs for the past year and a half, and am reaching out to ask for your help. We’re looking to find a consistent food for our dogs and I highly recommended Kahoots - I wasn’t surprised to hear that TLCAD has had great success with your food. I know you already have a strong partnership with Helen Woodward (my 12 year old beagle is from HW!), but I was wondering if you would be open to forming a relationship/partnership with TLCAD.”

This message, coupled with some research and an in-person meeting was all we needed to get the ball rolling. TLCAD expressed their pain points and how it’s so difficult to get a consistent supply of food for their 60+ dogs in training. Although they we’re receiving donated dog food at the time, the brand was constantly changing, the dogs’ tummies weren’t happy, and the caretakers were dealing with the messy results. We genuinely wanted to change all that. And ever since, we’ve been fueling their clever poochies with Kahoots Lamb & Brown Rice. We’re happy, they’re happy, and their dogs couldn’t be healthier! TLCAD Training Manager, Suzanne, keeps us in the loop whenever she can:

“Thank you so much for all you are doing for us! I am delighted to report that our dogs are already having fewer digestive issues and allergies now that they are on Kahoots food!”

Success! And with the launch of our new website and ecommerce fulfillment, we’re now able to send Kahoots kibble across California to all 3 of the correctional facilities they operate with: Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, Camp Pendleton Base Brig, and Mule Creek State Prison. From day one, our mission has been to make a real difference in every life we touch, including our customers, their animals, and the communities we love. Nourishing animals and strengthening the bond between pets and people is nothing new to us, it’s simply what we’ve always done and something we’ll always do.

If you feel the same way as us and want to help out, please share their story and follow them on Instagram @TLCAD, like them on Facebook @TenderLovingCanines, and support their donation-funded outfit by bringing home a new Kahoots/TLCAD plushy to your loved one. 100% of the proceeds go directly to Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs. And remember, never hesitate to spread a little TLC. We all know someone who could use it. 

golden retriever giving high five