Canine Companions For Independence Graduation At Kinkeade Campus Changed Lives For Both Humans And Their New BFF

Linda and Terrence Marler

May is filled with graduations and that applies to pooches as well as youngsters. On Friday, May 5, Canine Companions for Independence held a graduation ceremony at its Canine Companions for Independence Kinkeade Campus at the Baylor Scott and White Health facilities in Irving. It was overflowing with humans like Jan Rees-Jones with Susan McSherry, Baylor Animal Assisted Therapy Coordinator Linda Marler and her husband Terrence Marler as well as four-legged types.

Before the graduation took place, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade, who had been the driving force for Texas’ only CCI, teased new Baylor Scott and White CEO Jim Hinton, who had just recently arrived in North Texas from New Mexico: “When Jim first got here, he asked me what are those green objects. I told him, ‘Jim, I know you’re from New Mexico, but those are trees. We have a lot of those here.’ ”

Jim and Kristen Hinton and Ed Kinkeade

Following Ed, Jim told the crowd, “I love my wife first, I love my dogs second and I love my kids third and I’m completely unapologetic about that.”

Despite the Hinton dogs still living for the time being in New Mexico, Jim confessed that he does Facetime with them. “The good news is that they recognize my voice and I’m still a little bit of a wag. I miss those dogs terribly. To me this effort is a convergence of two things that I am passionate about: one is dogs and the other one is healthcare, taking care of people. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Judge Ed Kinkeade. It is his vision; it is his passion; it is his unique way that has caused this to exist.”

Jim recalled his attending the previous graduation and “I asked the question that all first-time guests ask, ‘Why are all these Kleenex boxes sitting around?’ And so for the past several months, I’ve been building up this moment with my wife [Kristen] and she is with me today. I’ve noticed that she’s already getting a little teary and we haven’t even started the darn program yet. So, she’s going to be a mess before this thing is over. ”

Luckily, there were boxes of tissues placed throughout the room. Sure, it was Cinco de Mayo to the rest of the world, but it was a parting of relationships for some in the room and for others it was the coming together for a lifelong journey.

Canine Companion for Independence puppy in training

Canine Companion for Independence puppy graduate Dutch II

One group consisted of young Labradors that for two years had been raised through the “awkward years,” thanks to volunteer puppy raisers. These dogs had been loved, hugged and been exposed to the world. Now, they were leaving the comfort of their homes and stepping up to a new level of education that would take place at the facility for months by skilled trainers. Their goal was to become the “companions” for those in need.  

Judy Schumpert and #18

A word about the puppy raisers; they range from all types. Some are families; some are prisoners; and then there was Judy Schumpert, who was turning in her 18th dog and already training her 19th : “I’m either on a mission for God or a glutton for punishment. I’ve got to keep doing it until I can do it no more.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone living, loving and working with a puppy for two years and then giving them up. New puppy raisers Mary Catherine Lombardi and Erica Hotvedt admitted, “When we got started, I think we knew what we were getting into. But I think the final goodbyes are harder than we expected.”  They recognized that their puppy Yoshi III, however, was destined for a truly remarkable role.

That purpose became so apparent when the graduation of the new teams took place. For the past two weeks, the seven humans had arrived and lived at the facility to be matched and trained with their new best friends.


Chosen as class spokesperson for the graduating teams, Edgar, with Chase V at his side, eloquently told of the importance of this program for the graduating humans. One was an autistic child, whose outbursts would “calm down immediately” when her pooch, Tess VI, “came to the rescue.” Thomas, whose weakened motor skills caused by cerebral palsy resulted in his dropping things to the floor, had been helped by  Atlas IV retrieving them for him. Wheel-chair-bound youngster Lauren‘s arm was subject to bouts of spasticity and limited control, but when Egan II lay down at her side, it was still and under control. Edgar himself admitted that there were times when he would fall out of his wheelchair and Chase’s bark command would sound the alert for assistance. Thanks to Dutch II, wheelchair-bound Lauren was looking forward to getting out on her own and not being “a burden on my parents.” Sara, who works with first responders in dealing with PTSD, would be assisted in the future by Aiken II, who would be “the non-judging entity in the room that helps the patients relax.” 

From the left: (seated) CCI graduate team Lauren and Egan; (standing) Puppy raisers Andrew, Ella, Mark, Angela and Lauren’s mother

Edgar continued, “These stories are a mere excerpt of what has happened in the past 10 days. Can you imagine what is going to happen in the next 10 years? All of us graduates would like to say thank you for being here today, whether you’re a donor, a puppy raiser, a volunteer. Even if this is your first time with Canine Companions, that’s how it starts. That how you get the ball rolling.”

Summing up the two weeks of team training, he addressed his fellow graduates: “We arrived as seven families, but today we graduate as one. And here we stand on the brink of a 10-year-journey. It won’t always be easy, but I promise it will be worth it. All the troubles that we deal with daily will soon be alleviated by an incredible new resource, my new best friend that is unconditionally at our side just waiting to help anyway they can. Thank you.”

As the new teams headed home for a new life of independence, the new recruits were taken to their CCI spotless digs for the next step in their education to be a life-changing partner for someone in need.   

Lauren and her mother

And that’s why the boxes of Kleenex were throughout the hall.

MySweetCharity Photo Gallery: Canine Companions For Independence Graduation

Canine Companions for Independence South Central Training Center

Unlike many May graduates who have diplomas but are in need of jobs, the Canine Companions for Independence graduates left the stage for a lifelong career with their human partners on Friday, May 5. Also as part of the ceremony at the Kinkeade Campus at Baylor Scott and White Health facilities in Irving were the puppies that have been raised by volunteers for nearly two years. They were turned over by their puppy raisers to CCI trainers to see if they, too, would make the grade.

As the class spokesperson said, “We arrived as seven families, but today we graduate as one.” Needless to say, there was plenty of Kleenex put to use for the standing-room-only crowd.

Lauren and her mother

As the post is being completed, check out the pooches and people at MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.

Six New Teams Of Humans And Dogs Graduated For Brighter Futures Thanks To Canine Companions For Independence

Canine Companions for Independence at Baylor, Scott And White Health Kinkeade Campus*

Since opening in November 2015, Texas’ only Canine Companions for Independence has been graduating teams of dogs and humans for life-changing futures. It has also been the site of where puppy trainers give up their puppies for a final training period that will prepare them for their possible careers in helping humans in need.

While it takes a unique dog to be able take on such responsibilities, it has largely been found that Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and crosses of the two breeds are best suited as

  • service dogs — assist adults with physical disabilities by performing daily tasks.
  • hearing dogs — alert the deaf and hard of hearing to important sounds.
  • facility dogs — work with a professional in a visitation, education or healthcare setting.
  • skilled companions — enhance independence for children and adults with physical, cognitive and development disabilities.

On Friday, February 10, six teams were presented to friends, families and supporters of the people and their best friends forever at the Kinkeade Campus at Baylor Scott And White Health in Irving. In addition to being the only CCI center in Texas, it is also the only CCI in partnership with a healthcare system thanks to U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade, who spearheaded the creation of such a facility.

With the permission of CCI, here are their stories for your consideration:

From the left: (back row) Sharon, Pam Megan, David, Stormi, Misty, Olivia, Ross, Becky and Nanette; (front row) Epic III, Kinsey II, Carlita II, Kit IV, Ranger V and Sandy VII*

  • Sharan, Pam, Megan and Skilled Companion Epic III – Megan fell in love with Epic the moment she met him. The day she found out he had been matched with her and would be her new best friend, the room filled with tears of joy. Megan is 14 years old and was born with intellectual and physical disabilities. This leads to anxiety, frustration, trouble with comprehension and lack of focus. Epic will help Megan by helping her focus, providing deep pressure and attention for her anxiety, but most of all by being a best friend. In a very touching moment, Megan exclaimed, “Mom, I’m not lonely anymore!” Megan’s family believes Epic will be the key to Megan reaching her full potential.
  • David and Service Dog Kinsey II – In September 1998, David was in a car accident that led to the loss of both his legs. He has double prosthetics that allow him to walk, however, he does have some mobility issues. He also sustained a TBI that now can cause him to become overstimulated in loud environments, as well as some short term memory trouble. Kinsey helps David by retrieving dropped items, opening doors and so much more, providing increased independence. David’s favorite thing about Kinsey is that she looks to serve him. He is looking forward to the future and all the experiences that are to come with Kinsey by his side.
  • Stormi and Facility Dog Carlita II – Stormi works for the Regional Victim Crisis Center in Abilene, Texas, an organization who works with children who are victims of sexual abuse. Carlita will accompany these children in both therapy sessions and the courtroom. Stormi says that there is only so much a human can do to help a child who no longer trusts adults. She hopes Carlita will bridge this gap and provide a calm, consistent and safe presence for these children who are in an otherwise scary situation. Stormi believes that Carlita is going to “heal a lot of hearts.”
  • Misty, Olivia and Skilled Companion Kit IV – Olivia is 13 years old and was born with a gene mutation that led to a rare skeletal disorder. Because of this, Olivia has limited fine motor and some gross motor skills and is developmentally delayed. She is also hard of hearing, which makes her very shy in public because she lacks confidence in what people are saying to her. Her mom, Misty, hopes her new dog Kit will help with some physical therapy, as well as allow Olivia to lose her fear of interacting with others and become the silly, outgoing person she is at home, when they are in public as well. Misty said that during their first two weeks with Kit, Olivia had already opened up and was communicating with adults more than ever in her life. There are great things in the future for this pair.
  • Ross, Becky and Facility Dog Ranger V – Ross and Becky work for Waskom ISD in East Texas. Ranger will now work alongside them in a special needs classroom as a facility dog. Ross and Becky believe that Ranger will be able to unlock the students’ potential for success. Ross explained that a lot of times school can become a negative place for students with special needs who struggle in the classroom. He hopes having Ranger around will turn school back into a positive, fun place for them. Ranger will work with students grades K-8. Ross and Becky hope he will improve children’s conversation with the faculty, keep them calm and focused, and provide structure and routine. They believe Ranger will truly change these kids’ lives.
  • Nanette and Service Dog Sandy VII – Nanette was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy at age 20. This is a progressive disease, so Nanette eventually lost her ability to walk and now has limited use of her arms and fingers. Sandy will help Nanette by retrieving dropped items, opening doors, turning on and off lights, pulling her laundry basket, and much more. Above all, Sandy gives Nanette a sense of security. Knowing that her dog can help her in so many situations makes her feel safe, and Nanette feels she can now do things without her husband around all the time. Sandy can also speak on command, alerting neighbors or other people nearby that something is wrong, or retrieve her phone if she gets into a tough spot. This is the beginning of increased independence for Nanette.

If you would like to attend a graduation, they are scheduled to be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. on May 5, August 4 and November 3. But if you can’t wait to see this remarkable campus, tours are held on the first Thursday of the month at 1:30 p.m. And if you are interested in volunteering, orientation meetings at scheduled to be held from 10:30 a.m. to noon on April 8, June 10 and September 9.

* Photo provided by Canine Companions for Independence Lone Star Chapter

Canine Companions For Independence At Baylor Scott And White Health — Kinkeade Campus Graduation Had Tears And Cheers

Box of tissues

Box of tissues

Most graduations boast mortar boards, robes and cheers as the grads leave their comfort zone for the next step of life. But unlike other more typical ceremonies, the one taking place at noon on Friday, May 13, had no caps and gowns. Instead there were boxes of tissues and tears along with tail wagging and cheers.

The event was the Canine Companions for Independence graduation of ten dog-and-human teams at its Baylor Scott and White Health — Kinkeade Campus in Irving .

Graduation program in Canine Training Center

Graduation program in Canine Training Center

After years of being trained for their roles as life-changing companions for “individuals with physical and developmental disabilities” from Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Keller, Cleburne and others areas of North Texas, these ten dogs were all summa cum laude graduates.

Puppy being turned in for formal training program

Puppy being turned in for formal training program

With an SRO crowd filling the Canine Training Center, it was heart rending to see the puppy raisers formally present their canines to the human, who “will begin their journey toward a more independent life.”

Prior to graduation, the human partners spent two weeks bonding with their dogs at the Campus thanks to cottages on the property.

And while this part of the program was truly gratifying, the teary part of the day’s activities was the handing over of the new class of 17 Labradors and Golden Retrievers for their formal training by their families who have raised them for more than a year. Even the most hardened observer found it hard to believe that after living and working with these remarkable animals that the puppy raisers could give them up. For puppy raiser Dawn Thompson, Freckles was the first puppy that she had raised for the program. Just prior to the handover as she and Freckles checked out the new dog-friendly pond with Diane Howard, she admitted that it was going to be a rough experience.

Freckles, Dawn Thompson and Diane Howard

Freckles, Dawn Thompson and Diane Howard

Freckles and her classmates would go through a carefully monitored six-to-mine-month training course at the facility. Those that passed the initial temperament and health evaluation would be trained to work around wheelchairs and learn more than 40 commands like pulling, switching on-and-off lights and retrieve.

But as difficult as it was to turn over their puppies, all the raisers were reminded that the pooches were destined for a greater mission.

In addition to donations, Canine Companions for Independence at Baylor Scott and White Health – Kinkeade Campus is looking for volunteers. Information on both can be found here!

JUST IN: Lee Ann And Alan White And PlainsCapital Provide $125,000 For Pond At Canine Companions For Independence

It was just months ago that Texas’ only Canine Companions for Independence officially opened on the Baylor, Scott and White Health campus in Irving. Today was graduation day, with 10 teams of dogs and humans officially starting their lives together. It was also a day when 17 new Labrador and Golden Retriever recruits were being turned over by their puppy-raisers to be trained for their careers as service dogs.

However, a surprise reveal took place among all the wagging tails and smiles. It was the beautiful outdoor water feature at the entrance of the brilliantly designed complex. Thanks to a $125,000 donation by Lee Ann and Alan White and PlainsCapital, the natural-looking pond with fountain was made paws-ible.

Freckles, Dawn Thompson and Diane Howard

Freckles, Dawn Thompson and Diane Howard

Just before the graduation and turnover took place, PlainsCapital’s Diane Howard and puppy-raiser Dawn Thompson checked out the pool. New recruit Freckles resisted the temptation to do what comes natural for a Lab.

Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership Graduating Seniors Were Feted By Junior League Of Dallas Sustainers

With graduations blooming like flowers at the Arboretum, it’s time for the celebrations of graduating seniors to be celebrated. The Junior League of Dallas Sustainers decided to hold one of those for the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School grads like Rosa Mendoza, Angela Chavez, Maria Mendoza and Angie Escorza  on Saturday April 16. Here is a report from the field:

Rosa Mendoza, Angela Chavez, Maria Mendoza and Angie Escorza*

Rosa Mendoza, Angela Chavez, Maria Mendoza and Angie Escorza*

Junior League of Dallas (JLD) Sustainers hosted a special luncheon for the graduating seniors at Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, a member of Young Women’s Preparatory Network (YWPN), at JLD headquarters on Saturday, April 16. Those in attendance included students, family, Irma Rangel Principal Lisa Curry, College Bound Advisor Ann Marano, Community Liaison Katie Allbritton, Advisory Council Chair and JLD Sustainer Beth Brown and JLD Sustainers.

Beth Brown, Lisa Curry and Meredith Mosley*

Beth Brown, Lisa Curry and Meredith Mosley*

JLD President Meredith Mosley welcomed the students, the faculty and families and shared what JLD does. “The mission of the Junior League of Dallas is to develop women leaders who support the community. With more than 70% of our members working outside the home, we are in every part of this city working and volunteering for many worthy organizations.” She encouraged the seniors in their journey from high school to college, quoting from Ernest Hemingway: “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

JLD Sustainer president Sandy Ammons welcomed everyone and thanked Carin Moeller and Amy Hatfield, who co-chaired the luncheon. She told the students that volunteering is important and to consider joining JLD after they complete college.

Sandy Ammons, Amy Hatfield and Carin Moeller*

Sandy Ammons, Amy Hatfield and Carin Moeller*

Moeller incorporated the Irma Rangel creed into her thoughtful remarks and finished with the last line: “Girls Today, Women Tomorrow, Leaders Forever.”

Hatfield had all the seniors stand for the exercise portion of the program, where she gave out door prizes based on certain information such as where they were born, how many siblings are in their family, etc.

The most popular attraction at the luncheon was the photo booth where the young ladies took photos dressed in colorful costumes and props.

Hatfield added, “This is the fourth year that the JLD Sustainers have celebrated the senior class, and we took their theme, Dream Big, and added, Dream Big in Texas. We know that these young ladies are on the path to fulfill their dreams with high school and college diplomas.”

YWPN Chief Marketing Officer and JLD Sustainer Juliette Coulter added, “What a celebration that the JLD Sustainers hosted for the seniors, especially the special gifts they presented. Irma Lerma Rangel was the first all-girls school in Texas and first member in the Young Women’s Preparatory Network. Now there are seven schools just like this one throughout Texas.”

YWPN network schools currently serve students in grades 6 through 12 on seven campuses across the state of Texas. YWPN’s results are amazing—100 percent of the girls graduate from high school and 100 percent are accepted into college. Sixty-eight percent of all students come from economically disadvantaged homes, and 68 percent of the Class of 2015 are first generation college students.

* Photos provided by Young Women’s Preparatory Network

Texas’ First Canine Companions For Independence Graduation And Matriculation Resulted In Cheers And Tears

Just the day before the Canine Companions for Independence Baylor Scott and White Health Kinkeade Campus had been dedicated. On this Saturday, November 7th afternoon, the center would be the scene of the beginning of four unique partnerships and the next step for puppies “entering the professional training” stage of the service dog program.

Jan Rees-Jones

Jan Rees-Jones

It would be a graduation and matriculation day filled with cheers and tears by the standing-room-only room of humans that included Baylor Scott and White CEO/President Joel Allison, CCI CEO Paul Mundell, CCI National Board Chair John Miller, philanthropist Jan Rees-Jones, Baylor Animal Assisted Therapy Director Linda Marler and Wounded Warrior CCI teams U.S. Army Ret. Sgt. Steve Blackman with Godley and U.S. Army Ret. Sgt. Brian Boone with Brindle.

Linda Marler, Judy Schumpert and Ed Kinkeade and new Canine Companions for Independence recruit

Linda Marler, Judy Schumpert and Ed Kinkeade and new Canine Companions for Independence recruit

This day was a long time in coming. And for such an occasion, it was only right that Federal Judge Ed Kinkeade served as the commencement speaker. He recalled how his beloved dog, Bo, had introduced him to the unique talents of canines working with humans in need. Before becoming one of the Baylor Animal Assisted Therapy program’s teams, Bo had seemed like your typical BFF. Ed told how Bo would get him up in the middle of the night for bathroom break. They would head off to a nearby bridge. One night Bo disappeared across a bridge and came running back alerting Ed that the park’s port-a-potties were on fire. Another night Bo came racing back and jumped into the judge’s arms with 20 horses headed in their direction.

It was through the Baylor program that Ed discovered that Bo made an immeasurable impact in the lives of patients. Researching the subject, Ed came upon the Canine Companions for Independence program based in California. Over the years it had placed more than 4,000 dogs with people with disabilities, both physical and mental.

After three years of negotiations, Ed and the Baylor Scott and White team landed the center. It would not only be the first CCI facility in Texas, it also be CCI’s first association with a hospital. Here Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and crosses of the two breeds would have months of training and vetting after being raised by volunteer puppy raisers. Not all would make it. Each would have to have the temperament, the intelligence and the ability to assist.

In a show of appreciation to Ed, it was revealed that a puppy in the next littler of CCI puppies would be named in his honor. It seems that all the puppies born in a littler share the same first initial. The “K” litter that will include “Puppy Kinkeade” is due to be born within the next month.

Canine Companions for Independence new recruit

Canine Companions for Independence new recruit

But this was more than a graduation day for four teams. It was also a day when the new “recruits” were to be handed over by their puppy raisers to the CCI trainers for their six months of learning. It was gratifying to see the families and individuals, who for 14-16 months had worked and done the preliminary work day-in, day-out, present the dozens of Labs. As one individual said, “I just couldn’t do it. I would be too attached to give them up.”

Still these puppy raisers like Judy Schumpert, who had raised 17 puppies over the years for service, recognized that their dogs were going to serve a greater purpose.

On this day, four such dogs had not only met the incredible requirements, they had bonded with four individuals, each with different needs that the dogs could serve with loyalty, understanding, training and what people call “unconditional love.”

As part of the official graduation, each pooch’s puppy raiser brought their dog to the stage and handed over the leash to the new companion as the crowd applauded and teared up.

Canine Companions for Independence graduation audience

Canine Companions for Independence graduation audience

As Ed said, “These folks are no longer people with needs or disabilities. They were the people with the cool dogs.”

There was Jaspers V that would help Emma, who has autism and lives with her grandparents. Mabel V would be assisting Sarah by becoming a “courthouse dog” in Marble Falls and work with abused children going through the court system. There are only 100 courthouse dogs in the country.

Michael Caspers and Vincent III

Michael Caspers and Vincent III

Pablo VI would help wheel-chair-bound Chelsey. And then there was Vincent III that would be U.S. Army Captain Michael Caspers’ “point man”. Standing perfectly erect in his uniform, Michael was so focused and professional. It was hard to imagine how much his life changed since that day in Afghanistan when on August 24, 2011, he stepped on a pressure-plate IED and lost his right leg below the knee.

Shifting gears, Michael told how Vincent had already started working with him in their two weeks together. It seems that Michael’s prosthetic limb didn’t allow him to know when he stepped on toes. Vincent had already started letting him know with a yelp.

With the sun shining overhead four partners left the Kinkeade Campus for new lives and adventures, while more than a dozen new recruits moved into the shining new kennels to undertake their final step toward a spring graduation.