Stories

The Impact of a Life-Changing Dog

November 7, 2019 Ashley Wilt

Phil is a Canine Companions puppy that The Dogist is following throughout his training. One day we hope he will grow up to be an assistance dog for a person with a disability. He is just six months old and has as a couple of years of training before he can reach that point, but he has many great mentor dogs to look up to! Today I wanted to share a few stories of people that have received assistance dogs from Canine Companions for Independence with hopes that Phil will one day fill a role like them!

If you are interested in learning more about applying for a Canine Companions assistance dog, click here.

Meet Maitai

The first story I wanted to share is of Mateo and Maitai. Mateo is six years old and was matched with his skilled companion and best friend Maitai one year ago. Skilled companions are dogs trained to work with an adult or child with a disability under the guidance of a facilitator. A facilitator is typically a parent, spouse or caregiver who handles and cares for the assistance dog, encourages a strong bond between the recipient and the skilled companion dog, and is responsible for the customized training needs of the dog. Mateo’s mother shared the impact that his skilled companion Maitai has made in Mateo’s life.

"I love you, Maitai," says Mateo each and every day at school drop off and at night before bed. Maitai helps Mateo in so many ways that we never even imagined. He was born with a brain abnormality called Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum. He also has ADHD and autism. This affects his adaptive skills, memory, and a variety of developmental and learning delays. Maitai encourages him, offers him a distraction, helps him transition, and calms him when he is anxious. They love to brush their teeth at the same time and Mateo is learning to measure and help feed Maitai. This encourages Mateo and signals that it is time for him to eat as well. She keeps Mateo with us when we are walking out in public as he loves to hold on to her vest handle and help walk her. Mateo has kyphosis and scoliosis and wears a torso brace at home. Maitai picks up dropped items for Mateo and she will sit with him or do the lap command during traction and other home exercises. Mateo loves to practice reading to Maitai before bed and snuggling with their stuffed moose. She also accompanies Mateo to school and attends school events, therapy and doctor appointments, plays with him and loves him. She is his constant loving security dog who goes with him everywhere. One of their favorite games to play together is hide and seek. Maitai can pull Mateo in his wagon and also play ball with him. People often come up to Mateo to start a conversation about Maitai, which gets him interacting with others. Maitai is Mateo’s perfect match and we are forever grateful to Canine Companions for Independence and all puppy raisers for the gift they have given us.”

Meet Renley

Canine Companions for Independence also places hearing dogs, who are trained to alert their partners to key sounds by making physical contact such as nudging the leg or arm. Among the many sounds hearing dogs are trained to recognize and respond to are the sound of a doorbell, alarm clock, someone calling a name or a smoke alarm. Kaitlynn was matched with her hearing dog Renley about a year and a half ago. 

Kaitlynn shared,

“Renley has completely changed my life and given me the independence I longed for. Renley is trained in various alerts that help me live a “normal” life. Renley alerts to my name, dropped keys, fire alarm, doorbell, knocking at the door, alarm clock, timer, and more. Some may think that assistive devices can help someone that is deaf or hard of hearing, but a dog has a quality that a flashing light cannot do, and it has been the most beneficial thing for me. Canine Companions perfectly picks dogs that will be well suited for the hearing dog program and those are dogs that are alert and energetic enough to spring into action to alert their handler to sounds, but also one that is calm enough to be a service dog. Renley is always calmly watching what is going on around us and this is so helpful because I cannot possibly train a dog to alert to every noise in our environment and that is where him calmly observing the environment helps me tremendously. When we are out in public I can watch and feel Renley’s head movements to look for what is going on in my environment that I may not be able to hear. This is what has made me feel comfortable going to the mall, the grocery store or anywhere else that I can imagine by myself. There have been countless times that I have been walking in a parking lot and not even noticed a car coming up behind us until Renley has turned his head to the sound. Renley has made me feel safe knowing that I will never miss an important noise at home or out in public again and that is something I never knew I would feel again. Canine Companions and Renley’s amazing puppy raiser family have given me back more than I can ever repay, and I am forever grateful.”

Meet Raider

Raider is a 4-year-old facility dog working in the Corona Police Department. Canine Companions facility dogs are expertly trained dogs who partner with a facilitator working in a health care, visitation or education setting. Canine Companions facility dogs are trustworthy in professional environments and can perform over 40 commands designed to motivate and inspire clients with special needs. 

Raider’s handler shared with me the impact that he has had, 

“In November 2017 Raider was placed with his handlers, Sgt. Adam Roulston and Public Safety Dispatcher Erin Lennox from the Corona Police Department. Raider was officially sworn in as a Corona Police K9. Shortly after accepting his duties, Raider went straight to work. His primary role is to assist people who have been impacted by traumatic events. Raider has assisted with natural disasters, traffic collisions, forensic interviews, criminal justice proceedings, and mass victimization incidents. Raider also assists first responders after difficult incidents. Raider has made several public appearances and has visited many schools throughout the county. Raider’s most publicly noted assistance case was working with the 13 Turpin children after they had been removed from their abusive home in Perris, CA. Raider was introduced to the children the day after their rescue and made regular visits with them for almost two years until the criminal case completed sentencing. Since December 2017, Raider has had direct contact with approximately 35,000 people. He has become a goodwill ambassador of Canine Companions for Independence and has helped influence other public safety agencies throughout the nation to seek certified Facility Dogs for the workplace.”

Meet Tansy

Imagine having a dog that could turn on lights, pick up dropped keys or open a door. Canine Companions for Independence service dogs are partnered with adults with physical disabilities to assist with daily tasks and increase independence by reducing reliance on other people. A service dog can pull their partner in a manual wheelchair, push buttons for elevators or automatic doors, and even assist with business transactions by transferring money, receipts, and packages. Kim Wilson was matched with Canine Companions Service Dog Tansy.

She shared with me what life with Tansy by her side is like,

“As is typical for us, Tansy and I begin each day with her getting breakfast, me getting coffee, and then the two of us snuggle together on the couch to plan our day. In the quiet of the mornings, before the pain begins and life gets busy, I bask in the love that pours from those beautiful, soulful lab eyes and realize with each new day how lucky I am to have such a phenomenal dog at my side. Having a service dog at your side brings great freedom, independence with dignity, and responsibility. It also gives my family comfort in knowing that I'm never alone and always have help with me.  If I do need help, like when I’ve fallen or my orthostatic condition has kicked in, Tansy will bark to alert someone. She also helps me get dressed, undressed, do laundry, go shopping, pick up the house, and has learned to help me towel off after I shower. She is her happiest when doing something that she knows helps me. She’s become accustomed to how often I drop things, and never tires of retrieving all sorts of items. She can take off my shoes, socks, and pants and knows the difference between the three. Tansy has opened doors, both figurative and literal, for me. It was my service dog who saved my life one night while I was going through chemotherapy.  It was my service dog who helped me go back to college, maintain a 4.0 GPA. Now, it is my service dog Tansy who impacts my life so fully and beautifully each and every day. It is with these amazing people in mind that I end with this thought: every time Tansy helps me get dressed, towel off after a shower, or picks up the same item for the umpteenth time, I silently thank every hand that touched her and every heart that loved her on her journey to being by my side. It is truly a life-changing honor.”

Meet Wembley

Bruce is a Marine Veteran who served 34 years. He was matched with his service dog, Wembley.

Bruce shared how his life is different now with his service dog by his side,

“I started as a private, stayed busy for a few decades, and then found myself retiring as a Colonel of Marines.  As a result of my occupation, I face many daily challenges. I deployed multiple times to combat zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan, and suffer from chronic pain due to acute injuries and illness along with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which have impacted my life for many years.  Shortly after leaving the Marine Corps in 2018, I applied to Canine Companions for Independence to receive a service dog trained to perform commands to help mitigate my PTSD and mobility challenges. In October of 2018, I was matched with Service Dog Wembley who is trained to retrieve items from a distance and deliver them to me, open doors, turn on lights, interrupt anxiety episodes and nightmares, and provide constant companionship.  I am a proud member of Canine Companions for Independence’s first graduating class of veterans with PTSD teamed with these specially trained service dogs. Most importantly, I’ve been given a canine partner who enables me to move more comfortably throughout my daily life both at home and in public and is a much-loved member of our family which includes our three adult children.”

As you can see, Phil has many future job options to choose from. We can’t wait to see which one he will choose! To keep up on Phil’s journey to become an assistance dog, follow his Instagram at Instagram.com/fosteringpuppies