Canine partners help owners make life easier

Providing over 400 service dogs nationwide and to the U.S, Virgin Islands for an array of disabilities is Canine Partners for Life (CPL) located in Cochranville, Chester Counter. Founded in 1989 by special education instructor and animal trainer, Darlene Sullivan, CPL has become a leader in the assistance dog industry and is accredited by Assistance Dog International (ADI).

According to Andree Jannette, Associate Director of Marketing and Public Relations for CPL, what many people do not realize about assistance dogs is the array of disabilities in which they are used. Many disabilities addressed with CPL service dogs are a result of ALS, arthritis, cardiac related problems, cerebral palsy, chronic back/neck pain, chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome, diabetes, epilepsy/seizure disorders, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, paralysis, Parkinson's disease, spina bifada, spinal cord injuries and stroke.

CPL custom trains each dog to meet specific needs of the person that it will be partnered with and, if a secondary disability is evident such as blindness or hearing loss, they will cross train their dogs for hearing assistance or guide work as well. CPL dogs are trained to provide support and balance to a person who walks poorly, pay a cashier, open/close doors, operate light switches, carry items, get help for a person, roll a person over in bed to prevent bed sores, alert of an oncoming seizure or sudden drop in blood pressure before it occurs so that the individual can get to a safe place to avoid injury either from the seizure or from fainting, assist with transfers in/out of a wheelchair, retrieve dropped objects, assist with the laundry help the individual put on/take off clothing/shoes/socks, etc.

The two volunteer puppy raising programs use predominately yellow or black Labradors though other working or sporting dogs have been used. The first program allows community volunteers to raise puppies for socialization, basic obedience and house manners. They need to provide encouragement so puppies become confident, loving dogs all while LOVING them.

The second program is found within six state correctional facilities. Here, inmates provide the same training as the community volunteers. Considering that the inmates have endless time to give to the puppies, the bond become strong between the two. It has been proven to be a successful program, not only for the puppies, but for the inmates as well.

These partnerships will last for approximately eighteen months, at which time; the puppies are taken back to CPL's kennels to begin a year of formal training. Only now will the puppies progress into advanced obedience skills, begin working in a harness and learning the service skills needed to assist their future partners. The trainers come to the facility with a diverse and extensive background in dog training of various breeds and activities, a college degree and experience working with people with disabilities, teaching, or occupational therapy.

Not all dogs pass the training. CPL has several programs for such dogs, such as Home Companion or Residential Companion programs to comfort those with special needs or aide in therapies or they can go to Courthouse Companion programs used to comfort victims with physical, emotional or psychological trauma due to criminal conduct. Some join the ranks of the Pennsylvania State Police to train in bomb or drug detection while still others are adopted by their original puppy raisers.

To be considered for a CPL service dog, an individual must first complete an application on line at www.k94life.org. After the individual is determined suitable for their program, their name is then placed on a waiting list. Once the dog is specifically trained for the individual, a 3-week team training course is held at the CPL facility so the dog and their new partner can learn to work together. Raising, training, placing and providing a lifetime of support for each dog costs approximately $26,000; however, no one is denied a canine partner due to inability to pay. A sliding scale, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 is used to determine a required donation for each recipient.

Janette emphasizes to 'respect the work that a service dog is doing and not interfere by talking to or petting the dog. It is fine to talk to the human partner but the dog needs to remain focused.' Volunteers are always needed for puppy raising; temporary puppy homes; dog walking; cuddle time; office assistance; special events and much more. As one can easily see, these dogs are truly Angels and deserve whatever support we can give. For more information, please visit www.k94life.org.

*Author's note: Due to the amount of information on Canine Partners for Life, it was only fair to address them and The Seeing Eye, Inc. in separate articles. A future article will focus on volunteer opportunities, special events and fundraising for both Canine Partners for Life and The Seeing Eye, Inc.

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