"Help is a four-legged word.
Founded in 1975, Canine Companions for Independence is a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships. Headquartered in Santa Rosa, CA, Canine Companions is the largest non-profit provider of assistance dogs, and is recognized worldwide for the excellence of its dogs, and the quality and longevity of the matches it makes between dogs and people. The result is a life full of increased independence and loving companionship." (CCI.org, 2015.)
This program is funded entirely by donations and volunteers. There is absolutely no charge to patients for these beautifully trained dogs, and this can be a life changing gift for those with disabilities, including MS. The puppies in this program are raised and trained for 18 months by volunteers. They go through intensive, continuous training for the entire 18 month period, and must meet strict requirements before being passed through the program.
I was contacted by a fellow MSer by the name of Kay Roberts about this incredible organization. Kay has PPMS, and has used service dogs since 2003. I was thrilled to hear her story, and she wanted to make sure that other patients were aware of this option as a possibility. This is Kay's experience with MS and service dogs:
"I was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis in 2001. I was 49 years old was married with three grown children. I got my first service dog, Fuller, in late 2003. He died of an aggressive cancer in October 2014. I will get a replacement service dog sometime in 2015. I know what a service dog can do and I need that even more than I did years ago.
A service dog can help a person with MS in many ways, including:
• Picking up dropped items
• Never being a trip risk – service dogs know to stay away from your space
• Never barking except on command
• Helping with dressing and undressing
• Pressing the automatic door buttons and opening doors
There are many more things that a good dog can be trained to do that I have yet to discover like helping with getting into bed. I do already know that the number one thing that a service dog can do is to provide unconditional love and happiness every day. Fuller accompanied me on many adventures for eleven years and helped me make friends with thousands of people. He gave me a sense of purpose when I cared for him.
Some of the advantages of a service dog can also be met by any good dog. But a service dog has the advantage of being able to go in public and the training/breeding to help in ways that other dogs cannot."
Canine Companions for Independence can be found at: http://www.cci.org/site/c.cdKGIRNqEmG/b.4010979/k.8A3F/Assistance_Dogs.htm
CCI is accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI.) The ADI website also contains helpful information about various agencies that provide dogs for this purpose. Always be sure that your source is accredited by this organization, to ensure that proper breeding and training guidelines and regulations have been followed.
Having a canine companion can provide a patient with the means to explore the world, when they would otherwise be homebound. Whether wheelchair bound, visually impaired, or coping with a seizure disorder, these dogs are precisely trained to attend to their owner's needs. If you know a patient who might benefit from a service dog, please consider contacting CCI and applying. This can be the difference between dependence and independence for an MS patient.