|Canine Companions Graduate Gives Back|
OCEANSIDE, CA Recently, Canine Companions for Independence recognized Lance Weir, of Carlsbad, with its highest volunteer service award - the Jack Warnock Award. Canine Companions is a nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships. “I’m the luckiest guy on earth!” is how Lance responded when his award was presented. It’s probably not something one would ever expect to hear from a man with quadriplegia, but then again, Lance enjoys exceeding expectations.
Lance has many friends. The Arkansas native’s warm smile and friendly, Southern accent tend to draw people in. The playful, loving Labrador Retriever at Lance’s side acts as a social magnet as well. Of course, it would be impossible not to notice his wheelchair, but Lance’s easygoing, affable demeanor tends to put folks at ease even if they’re not used to being around people with disabilities. Lance is open, honest and has an amazingly positive outlook despite his challenges. It is no wonder that Lance’s favorite nonprofit organization, Canine Companions, considers him and his service dog two of its strongest ambassadors.
Lance was in his early twenties when a diving accident left him paralyzed. He went from being an active and athletic Marine Corps Reservist and walk-on football player at Arkansas State University to being trapped in bed. While rehabilitating, Lance remembers when a fly landed on the nose of a young patient next to him. The boy could not move his arm, wiggle his nose or turn his head to shoo the fly away. At that moment, Lance decided he had no right to feel sorry for himself and he would do whatever he could to live life fully.
A few years later, Lance took a major stride forward in his emotional recovery when he was matched with a Canine Companions service dog. Satine helped Lance more than he could have imagined. “Satine changed my life,” Lance explains. “She gave me responsibility, independence and the confidence to go out there and try things I didn’t think I could do.” When a staff position opened at Canine Companions, Lance moved out of his family home in Arkansas to Southern California to live on his own and support the organization that returned his independence.
Today, Lance is a proud Canine Companions Southwest Regional board member after serving as a staff member for three years. Satine retired to live with a loving family and, in 2011, Lance received a successor service dog named August II. “Auggie is a totally different dog, but I couldn’t ask for a better match!” Lance says. In addition to helping with everyday tasks like retrieving Lance’s keys or phone if he drops them and opening doors, Auggie just makes life fun! He plays fetch for as long as Lance throws the ball and he is always ready for a walk. Auggie keeps Lance active and energized.
In fact, Lance’s life has completely turned around from the hopelessness he felt when he was first injured. Through sheer determination, Lance regained some mobility after his devastating injury. Through his partnerships with his service dogs, Lance regained his independence. “Canine Companions is extremely important in my life,” says Lance. “I’m happy to be an example of how much independence a service dog can bring to someone with a disability. Canine Companions is a wonderful organization, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
To that end, Lance has made it his mission to raise awareness of Canine Companions. As a volunteer, the word “no” is not in Lance’s vocabulary. He has given countless presentations, media interviews and demonstrations on behalf of the organization. Lance has inspired people to apply for assistance dogs, to volunteer for Canine Companions and to financially support the organization. He has been especially instrumental with his work to support the Wounded Veterans Initiative at Canine Companions. As a former Marine Corps Reservist, the program to place assistance dogs with veterans with physical disabilities is especially close to his heart.
Even outside of Canine Companions-related activities, Lance and Auggie are always ambassadors. In the last few years, Lance has embraced adaptive sports. He competed on the All-Marine Warrior Games air rifle and pistol team for the last two years. After winning two gold medals, this year Lance is coaching while contemplating the possibility of pursuing a spot on the 2016 Paralympic shooting team. Lance also hand-cycled down the California coast last year with Challenged Athletes Foundation, among other activities. And each athlete Lance meets is introduced to his service dog and the organization that made it all possible.
“I know Lance credits Canine Companions for making it possible for him to live life to the fullest,” says Barbara Barrow, executive director of Canine Companions in the Southwest Region.
“But what he gives back to our organization and to our clients is priceless. Because of Lance, countless volunteers and donors have chosen to support Canine Companions. Because of Lance, people with disabilities are experiencing life-changing partnerships with their Canine Companions assistance dogs. Because of Lance, people have hope for greater independence!”