Canine Companions for Independence, located in Southeast Orlando, can boast that it is the go-to non-profit organization that offers highly trained dogs to help people with various disabilities. But, their assistance dogs are also specially trained to be a perfect match to help improve the quality of life for individuals on many levels.
This organization, founded in Santa Rosa, CA in 1975, has since grown to become one of the largest non-profit providers of assistance dogs in the country. Its 8-acre campus in Orlando has been in existence since 2000 and includes a kennel, administrative building, training building, dormitory and kitchen.
Assistance dogs are trained in four main categories: service dogs, facility dogs, skilled companions and hearing dogs. The dogs can obey up to 40 commands that include tasks like opening doors, turning on lights, or alerting their companions to the key sounds of a doorbell or smoke alarm. Using Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and crosses of the two breeds, volunteer puppy raisers work for months with each dog to teach them the basics before returning them to Canine Companions for extensive companionship training. When a candidate is selected for the dog, they will complete a two-week educational course where trainers offer specialized instruction for the pair to teach the dog to recognize their future companion’s voice when giving commands.
The organization specifically matches the dogs to their companions so that they are well suited to the individual’s needs. “We work with the people for the lifetime of the dog,” says Media and Public Relations Coordinator Martha Johnson. “We have provided dogs to war vets, children and various facilities.”
With all services funded through private donations, the organization can only accept a limited number of applications. Since there are so many puppies, organizers at Canine Companions are always looking for help with the basic puppy training. “We have 170 active puppies currently in the southeast region,” says Public Relations Coordinator LeAnn Siefferman. “We are always looking for more volunteer puppy raisers. The more puppies we have, the more people we can serve.”
To those in the community who have received this gift from the organization, the companion dogs are often a source of love and friendship in addition to a necessary helper in everyday life. “Rossie is a blessing in my life,” says Andrea Abel, a recipient of one of the service dogs. “He is my best friend, and I can rely on him to assist me with physical needs and to be there for me. I am so thankful to Canine Companions for Independence that brought Rossie into my life.”
What makes these dogs extra special is that they encourage feelings of calm, self-assurance and security to their owners. Johnson says, “The matches we help make between dogs and people result in a life full of increased independence and loving companionship.”