Enjoy a selection of stories of Canine Companions teams and volunteers:
“Canine Companions has impressed me for 30 years.”
When Dan was a part of the North Central Region’s first graduating class, he didn’t know that he was starting a lifetime partnership. The year was 1987 and Dan got a phone call inviting him to the newly founded North Central Region of Canine Companions for Independence to receive his first assistance dog.
“I always had a dog, so after my injury it came naturally for me to want an assistance dog. I ended up with my first service dog, Troubadour,” remembers Dan. “Within the first month of having Troubadour, I was at the grocery store when my wedding ring fell to the ground and rolled under a shelf. I thought I’d see what this dog could do and he went and got the ring, brought it to me and dropped it right in my hand. It was amazing! I didn’t have to ask anyone for help!” Dan found that having an assistance dog allowed him to successfully manage his busy family life and teaching career.
After Troubadour’s retirement, Dan worked with successor service dogs Ingenito, Balin and, most recently, Michael III.
“Canine Companions has impressed me for 30 years,” says Dan. “The dogs, the staff, the training—it’s just an outstanding organization.” While Canine Companions has remained dedicated to its mission, the methods have changed a bit since Dan received his first dog.
Dan says that the breeding program is where he sees the most difference between 1987 and now. He has noticed the difference in dispositions, calmness and length of working life.
All the dogs in 1987 were taught 88 commands, which Dan and other graduates found confusing, as did the dogs. “Troubadour just couldn’t keep track of all the commands,” laughs Dan. “The 40 or so commands that the dogs know now are much more workable from a graduate point of view.”
Another big change has been in the graduate program. Today a robust graduate follow-up program is in place to ensure that all teams are healthy and working together effectively for the life of the dog.
“I tell people that you just can’t go wrong with Canine Companions,” says Dan.
“Having a dog by my side makes me feel like I really can do anything.”
Bari received her first Canine Companions service dog, Carol, while still in college in 1988. Carol helped Bari meet fellow students, pick up dropped pens and get the button for the elevator door, but most of all, Carol helped open Bari up to all of the possibilities of a more independent life. "Having a dog by my side made me feel like I really could do anything,” says Bari. “Having Carol took away limitations I had placed on myself in my mind. I started to think about where my life could take me, now that I had a service dog."
Bari has Still's disease, which is a severe form of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She can't reach far in front of her or even reach the top of her head. "Counters might as well be a mile high," explains Bari. “And if I dropped something and no one was around to get it for me, it just stayed on the floor.” Before her Canine Companions assistance dogs, Bari was dependent on a caregiver or family member to help her. In 2008, she received her fourth service dog Axel III.
“Axel, is 9-years-old now and he still loves to work. He thinks it is the coolest thing in the world to have this job,” says Bari. Bari’s disability causes her hands to be weak and during flare-ups, holding things can be painful. “Sometimes I just drop an item once, but some days I’ll drop the same thing 20 times. My assistance dogs have always been there for me with wagging tails, ready to help with the next item.”
Slowing the Progression of Huntington’s
In October 2007, Bob learned why he had been struggling with reasoning, concentration, fatigue and uncontrollable muscle movements. He was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a progressive disorder of the brain that inhibits patients physically, emotionally and socially.
Because of his disease, Bob learned he could no longer drive, work or participate in the activities he did growing up in Colorado and Idaho. He was relegated to the sidelines watching his three sons do the things he loved to share with them, like downhill skiing and water sports.
A neurologist mentioned to Bob’s wife, Nila, that an assistance dog could help ease the physical and emotional pain of Bob’s illness. And in 2010, Canine Companions for Independence made it possible for Bob to graduate with assistance dog Exeter, free of charge.
Exeter is always there for Bob as his disease progresses; picking up the many things that Bob drops, turning out the lights or helping Bob get a soda from the fridge.
Donations from people like you helped make it possible for Canine Companions to give Exeter to Bob free of charge.
Bob’s disability often goes unseen or is misinterpreted. “Huntington’s disease robs a person of their motor control and behavioral capabilities,” says Nila. “Often, people would see Bob stumbling and assume he was intoxicated. They didn’t understand that he was only under the influence of Huntington’s.”
After being matched with Exeter, that story has changed dramatically. “People see Exeter in his blue Canine Companions vest and instantly understand that Bob has a disability. Now instead of confronting him, they offer their assistance.”
While Huntington’s disease can cause a loss of interest in many activities, Exeter has captured Bob’s heart. They spend hours together snuggling while Bob holds Exeter’s paws. The physical and emotional benefits Exeter has provided Bob has even slowed the progression of Huntington’s disease.
“Stress hastens the progression of Huntington’s disease, but knowing that Exeter will get the phone if Bob falls and letting the public know that he has a disability has reduced stress for Bob,” states Nila. “Both the doctors and I can agree that Bob is doing as well as he is because of the presence of Exeter in his life.”
Not Just Another Accessory
When Emily Cikra got the call inviting her to the May 2012 Team Training at the North Central Training Center, her initial reaction wasn’t one of joy. “The embarrassing thought that came into my mind was that having a service dog would be another accessory to add to my arsenal of things that make me stand out,” she explains. “I already have a wheelchair, trach with occasional ventilator and sometimes a brace on my hand. It felt like a lot for people to take in as is and adding a dog to this mix felt over the top.”
But the Bay Village, Ohio resident chose to ignore those feelings and she is so thankful she did. Emily explains, “My service dog, Dash II, has done the exact opposite of what I feared. He has not added to my ‘disability accessories,’ he has actually detracted from them!”
With Dash by her side, Emily has found that people are more comfortable approaching her in public. “Often, once I’ve answered a few questions about Dash, people realize that although I am in a wheelchair, I am the same as anyone else,” she says. “Dash has helped to bridge a gap that shouldn’t exist anyway—the gap between me as a woman with a disability and the rest of the able-bodied world.”
Dash assists Emily by picking up dropped items, opening doors, turning light switches on and off and pushing automatic door buttons. Emily’s favorite command is “visit,” when Dash rests his head in her lap so she can give him some love.
“Canine Companions has given me the best gift I have ever received,” says Emily. “I truly desire for other people that would benefit from one of these amazing dogs to get one as soon as possible.” To that end, Emily is very active with the Northern Ohio volunteer group. She often speaks at community events, attends training sessions with puppy raisers and raises funds for the Cleveland DogFest Walk ‘n Roll event.
What’s Emily’s advice for anyone who is thinking of applying for an assistance dog from Canine Companions? “Do it! You will not regret it!” she says. “Dash has exceeded my expectations in furthering my independence.”
Bridging the Gap to Independence
“Marco has brought Barbara so much happiness. I’ve seen her desire to be independent grow because of him,” says Barbara’s mom, Gloria. Marco is Barbara’s Canine Companions assistance dog.
"I knew an assistance dog would help bridge the gap between Barbara and the rest of the world, but I didn’t know if we’d qualify since Barbara cannot give traditional commands to a dog,” says Gloria.
Barbara has cerebral palsy. She has limited verbal communication and is quadriplegic.
But Barbara did qualify! And now, over 2 years after receiving Marco from Canine Companions, Gloria can’t imagine Barbara’s life without him.
“Barbara and Marco have developed a special way of communicating. Their bond is incredible. Barbara will call Marco with clicks of her tongue and he knows that she is calling him. He will come to her and push his head under her arm so she can pet him. He knows how to position himself so Barbara can reach him,” explains Gloria.
People used to talk to Gloria, ignoring Barbara. But when Barbara holds Marco’s leash, people talk to her directly. “Marco has improved Barbara’s self-esteem so much. She loves the attention and has so much pride when she takes him on walks,” says Gloria. Before Marco, Barbara used to be self conscious about using her natural voice in public. But with Marco, Barbara will firmly tell people “no” if they ask to pet him while he is busy working. Marco has given her a sense of ownership and responsibility.
“Barbara will tell Marco to ‘sit down,’ and she says it with such authority. As a mother, it has been amazing to see her confidence grow,” states Gloria.
Service Dog Garrison Saves the Day
Bill sustained his life-changing injuries while serving our country in the US Coast Guard.
“After seeing my doctor through the VA for so many years, I think he knew the extent to which an assistance dog would be able to help me,” Bill explains.
Now Bill is a successful businessman and an active community member. He served on school boards, planning commissions and as treasurer for The Paralyzed Veteran Association.
Garrison greets Bill every morning wagging his tail, holding his food bowl in his mouth and is by Bill’s side every minute of the day.
“Being in a chair, people think your ability to think and speak is different. Garrison changes that, he acts as an ice breaker and people treat me normally,” Bill continues.
“People always ask me about Garrison, and I tell them how he helps me. But really I want them to know about what an amazing organization Canine Companions is. I’ve worked a great deal in volunteer leadership and fundraising, and I’ve never seen a more giving organization in my life.”
Independence for Anna
Anna was born profoundly deaf. She often misses sounds like phones, door knocks, and traffic. When she’s asleep or not wearing her aids, she’s completely deaf.
“We feel that our support of Canine Companions helps give many individuals a life changing opportunity,” explains Warren.
Special Education Students Enjoy "T-Time"
Facility Dog Teal is also known as Doggie, Dog, Super T, Tealy Bear, Mr. Tiki, T-dog, T-friend and T the Helper. He is partnered with Melissa, an occupational therapist who works in schools and a private therapy clinic. Together, they are referred to as Melt—a nickname given by the special education students that Melissa and Teal work with.
Still another student, who is very shy and has speech challenges, gave her first speech in front of her class on T. “She was so proud of herself and told me that everyone is jealous of her because she gets to play with Mr. T! It was a huge confidence booster,” explains Melissa.
Canine Companions Service Dog Caspin helps Wallis live independently.
"He can retrieve my phone and other dropped items, pull my wheelchair and open doors for me," she continues.
Wallis has a condition known as dystonia, a disease that causes her muscles to spasm spontaneously. She was at the pharmacy when a "dystonic attack" came on and she could not move. Caspin helped her pay the cashier, get the bag from the cashier and gracefully exit the store.
Savannah is eleven years old, plays basketball, excels in her schoolwork, is a cheerleader, studies music and dance, is a pageant winner and enjoys hiking. All from a wheelchair. Bravely facing health and social challenges that most of us can't imagine.
Robin knew an assistance dog would help her son Braden, challenged with autism. She contacted several organizations who expected her to do a great deal of fundraising before receiving a dog.
"I had basically given up hope, then I learned that Canine Companions for Independence was training dogs for autistic children," says Robin.
In May 2007 Robin and Braden graduated from Team Training with Skilled Companion Camille, free of charge and free of fundraising. Since then, Camille has changed Braden's life.
"Braden is much more social, calmer in public, and is developing empathy," Robin continues. "Camille gives Braden acceptance and love, without expecting him to be like everyone else."
Paralympics Athletes Assisted by CCI Facility Dog Morrow
On September 2, 2008 the US Paralympic Sailing Team will begin competing in China at the 2008 Paralympic Games. Since May 2007, Coach Betsy Alison has had a unique assistant, Canine Companions for Independence Facility Dog Morrow II.
"Morrow has been more of a physical and emotional support to the athletes than anyone anticipated. Physically, Morrow picks up out of reach items, carries athlete bags and gear, and even assists with docking the boats by bringing fenders to the sailors. Emotionally, Morrow has been a training constant for the athletes who often travel away from home and their support systems to attend camps and competition," shares Coach Betsy Alison.
After observing the sailors with their pets, Alison thought that a "team dog" could act as a stress reducer and psychological motivator for athletes. Alison consulted with several sports psychologists who agreed with her concept.
In May 2007 she added a new member to the sailing team -- an exceptional Facility Dog when she graduated from Canine Companions for Independence with Morrow II.
Thanks to his training at Canine Companions Morrow can assist the sailors with tasks like picking up dropped tools and carrying life jackets and dry bags. He is currently learning to help pull wheelchairs up the dock. Additionally, Morrow is a constant professional. He is not distracted by common sounds aboard the coach boat like air horns and whistles or by waves and other boats.
The team includes eighteen disabled athletes -- many with spinal cord injuries of varying severity, about half in wheelchairs. The sailors range in age from 22 to 72 and come from all backgrounds. Alison noticed that when a sailor makes errors or performs poorly on the water, they often internalized the stress and their mental state suffers. "Morrow provides stress reduction. You can't help but smile at his unconditional love and regain a positive outlook," says Alison.
Betsy, a five-time US SAILING Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and two-time Ynglling World Champion, has been working with athletes of the US Disabled Sailing Team for several years, accompanying the U.S. Paralympic Sailing Team to the 2000 and 2004 Paralympic Games. She has been a staff coach of the US Disabled Sailing Team since March 2006.
Facility Dog Morrow will not be traveling to China for the Paralympics with the team, but he has been key to their preparation.
"I'll bring some pictures of Morrow along with his well wishes for the team, that will undoubtedly put smiles on our athletes' faces," explains Coach Alison.
“Walking in the door, and seeing Tally with his new partner Eddie for the first time was so beautiful. I had to close the door and go cry my eyes out before I could go back in,” Peggy explains.
Since that moment in 1994, Peggy has gone on to raise a total of fourteen puppies and is currently raising puppy number fifteen. Peggy knows that each puppy she raises will impact lives, starting with her own.
“Raising puppies is the greatest thing I’ve ever done — and the incredible thing is that I am blessed beyond measure. It’s an odd thing how it works backwards like that. I’ve grown as a person into realizing that giving back even just a little bit is the highlight of my life,” explains Peggy.
Muffy Davis began ski-racing at age three. She soon realized she had special talents and wanted some day to ski race in the Olympics. Then, at age 16, Muffy's life changed. While skiing she veered off-course and slammed into two trees at 55 mph, crushing her back and almost killing her. In the ensuing months she faced and overcame numerous physical and psychological challenges.
But that little voice inside kept repeating her goals and before long Muffy was involved in disabled ski-racing winning many awards, including four gold medals.
In August 2006, Muffy graduated from CCI with Service Dog Leibe, a two-year-old black Labrador. Muffy feels she has more adventures and explores more because of Leibe. For instance, she used to be unable to enjoy the feeling of picnicking on the warm but slightly damp grass in the park. Because without Leibe she couldn't get back into her wheelchair on her own. Now Leibe braces her and Muffy can get in and out her wheelchair as she pleases.
But life is not all about work for Muffy and Leibe. Muffy says, "He loves it and plays just like a little kid!"
Child Life Specialist Jennifer Johnson and Facility Dog Millie II are one of three CCI Facility Dog graduate teams working in the Children’s Center at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, CA. Together Jennifer and Millie help children with cancer, like Jaiden, pictured in the photo to the left, cope with life in the hospital. which can be a scary and overwhelming experience for children and their families.
Jennifer is proud to be a CCI graduate and work with a CCI Facility Dog. She says, “CCI gives people the medium to have freedom and acceptance in their lives, which everyone deserves.”
"Awesome," is the word Paul Ogden uses to describe Hearing Dog Bree III and CCI. After training his own hearing dog and then receiving Bree from CCI, Paul believes, "There is no comparison with a CCI dog."
He shares that Bree responds to every little request, knows all the routines and is a great assistance, providing not only independence but also security.
In his busy professional life, Paul travels frequently and stays in hotels. Before receiving Bree, he did not sleep well in hotels, always worried about how he would hear an emergency alarm. With Bree, Paul sleeps soundly, feeling confident that she will alert him to any alarm.
This isn't the only way that Bree enhances Paul's traveling experiences. Paul says, "When I travel with Bree, people forget that I'm deaf and feel more comfortable with me. Bree helps make people feel that I am normal, like everyone else."
Visit our videos page for more inspirational graduate stories!Have a great story? Submit it here.