[Editor's note: This story is the first in a series about Can Do Canines. Please help us spread awareness about this wonderful assistance-dog training organization by sharing this.]
OK, let’s be real, SWDers: In your eyes, your pooch is a superhero. But when it comes to true super-canine powers, the highly trained assistance dogs comin’ out of Can Do Canines have our pups beat.
“They are life-changing and life-saving,” says Development Director Janet Cobus. “It is truly amazing what these canines can learn to do and the intuitiveness they possess when they move in with their human partners.”
Situated in New Hope, Can Do Canines is the largest provider of assistance dogs in the upper Midwest. The nonprofit provides those living with disabilities (think autism, diabetes, seizure disorders, hearing or mobility impairment, and more) with a service dog — free of charge. Once trained, these pooches can do everything from alerting to a drop in a client’s blood sugar to fetching dropped keys. In short, they make life livable — and in some cases, save lives.
“We had an applicant with type 1 diabetes and hypoglycemia unawareness, and in a span of one year, emergency attendants were called to her home 173 times because of a rapid drop in blood sugar,” Cobus recalls. “She was admitted to the hospital twice and came very close to death. She contacted Can Do Canines, and we placed Moxie, a black lab, with her. Since she has had Moxie to alert her, she has not had one emergency call, and she returned to work as a nurse. She got her life back!”
While clients clearly benefit from the help of an assistance dog, canines like Moxie reap the rewards of a loving friend, a sense of purpose, and a true partnership.
“Many people think service dogs look unhappy when working and never get to just ‘be a dog,’” says Cobus. “When they have their cape on, they are working, and their job is to concentrate on their person. But, when the cape comes off, the puppyraiser [a volunteer who helps train the service dog] and the client play with the dog and provide exercise. The dogs really enjoy their playtime, but they also enjoy helping the person they are dedicated to.”
Can Do pups go through a 24-month training and placement process before getting to work. That includes a year with a puppyraiser, a full medical exam, 12 to 18 months with a specially trained foster family, and team training with their eventual client. Training and care of each service dog costs some $25,000, which is raised through events and private donations. Save for a $50 application fee, clients receive their pooch free of charge.
“Many of our dogs are chosen for this work because they love to work and are needed and loved by the person they are serving,” says Cobus, who notes that a large number of the org’s service dogs are rescued from local shelters.
Since its 1987 launch, the nonprofit has trained and placed 438 assistance-dog teams. And on October 12, 18 more will march proudly across the stage at Can Do Canines’ graduation ceremony. Open to the public, the celebration will take place at 1 p.m. at the nonprofit’s New Hope locale.
“There are a lot of happy tears and emotion coming from the stage, and everyone in the audience witnesses some wonderful stories,” says Cobus. “It’s a great way to truly understand our mission. Of course, we have cake and cookies afterward!”
—Sarah Asp Olson