By Steven Hoffman
Canine Partners for Life is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The Cochranville-based organization has trained and placed more than 600 dogs in homes all across the country, allowing people with a wide variety of disabilities to lead fuller, more active lives.
The Chester County Press will soon be publishing a story about the 25th anniversary of Canine Partners for Life, and while preparing that story we met people like Sarah and Mike.
Sarah, a sophomore at the University of Delaware, welcomed Rosebud into her family after she was diagnosed with epilepsy. The small dog is more than just a friendly companion; she alerts Sarah when she is about to suffer an epileptic seizure, crawling onto her lap and refusing to leave until the danger has passed. This helps keep Sarah safe and active.
Mike has been wheelchair-bound since 1988, after he was injured in a fall. He has received two dogs from Canine Partners for Life over the years. Annabelle is his constant companion, and helps him in numerous ways. She can help him pick up items that he can't reach. She can notify other family members when he needs help.
The dogs that are trained at Canine Partners for Life can help people with a wide range of physical, neurological, and cognitive disabilities, including muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cerebral palsy, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, spinal cord injuries, strokes, seizure disorders, arthritis, spina bifida, Parkinson’s Disease and more.
Over the course of 25 years, the Canine Partners for Life staff has developed an extensive training program for the dogs, and all you have to do is talk to a recipient to understand how important a role the dogs can play in a person's life. The dogs are taught how to handle a variety of chores, from simple things like picking up dropped objects to more advanced tasks like opening doors, operating lights and elevator buttons. They can take purchases and wallets to a cashier in a store. The dogs can learn how to assist a person with dressing and undressing. They can retrieve a wheelchair or provide balance or momentum to their person. They can provide stability on stairs or rough terrain. They can even assist bed-dependent individuals to move in the bed, preventing bedsores.
The dogs are constant companions and they are caregivers.
The stories of Mike and Sarah should provide the rest of us with inspiration. They meet their challenges with courage.
There is certainly inspiration to be found from the compassionate people who raise and train the service and alert dogs, too.
But let's not forget the dogs themselves. Annabelle and Rosebud and the 600 or so other Canine Partners for Life dogs are providing an invaluable service.