Headquartered in Santa Rosa, CA, the organization known as Canine Companions is the largest nonprofit provider of assistance dogs. The organization’s breeding program uses advanced technology to match well-suited labs, retrievers and mixes of the two. The volunteer breeders take the puppies to the Santa Rosa headquarters at 8 weeks of age. The puppies are cared for in that same facility until they have reached the age of 18 months, when they are taken to a foster home.
After receiving basic training in that foster home, each of the four-legged assistants get specialized training from a professional trainer. The specialized training continues for 6 months. At the conclusion of that six-month period, the fully-trained canine is matched with someone who is disabled. The process used to match dogs and disabled patients is lengthy and involved; however, it appears to be quite effective. Still, no disabled person is expected to exhibit an instant ability to utilize a trained dog’s capabilities.
The selected person with a disability first comes to the campus, the one on which the trainers work with the canines. He or she spends two weeks on that campus, learning how to utilize a given dog’s skills. This approach leads to the development of dogs with excellent skills and with the creation of dog-human matches that last a good long time. Not every animal that the breeders send to the organization’s headquarters manages to complete every phase of the training. Those that fail to meet all the requirements established by the trainers (about 60% of the animals) are given an alternate career. Some learn to sniff-out illegal drugs or bombs; others get adopted by a loving family.
As might be imagined, such extensive training requires the expenditure of a large amount of money. In fact, it costs $50,000 to train a single dog. Yet those who benefit from the dogs’ assistance do not have to pay a single cent. Canine Companions depends entirely on the generosity of those men and women who are eager to make skilled canines available to those men and women who will have their lives improved by the ready assistance of a four-legged companion.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.