Canine Companions For Independence Baylor Scott And White Health Kinkeade Campus Dedication Was A Howling Success

After hit and miss weather of Thursday, November 5, the Canine Companion of Independence (CCI) dedication organizers were breathing a deep sigh of relief. Not only had the tornadic and hail storm hit other parts, the sun was shining, the temperatures were perfect and more than expected showed up to see the dedication of the national program’s first Texas facility.

It was also the first of its kind to partner up with a hospital and in this case it was Baylor Scott & White. Over the years the Irving CCI Baylor Scott And White Health Kinkeade Campus will not only be the graduate school for the canines, but it will also be the temporary home for the human recipients to train as they partner up with their BFFs.

Canine Companions For Independence classmates

Canine Companions For Independence classmates

The services dogs could have cared less about all the hoop-la. They were on duty, while the two-legged critters were amazed and gratified how nine mesquite-covered acres in Irving had been turned into a breathtaking center to yearly prepare 60 dogs to assist children and adults with disabilities.

Outdoor kennels

Outdoor kennels

Indoor kennels

Indoor kennels

On one side of the layout was the Diane and Hal Brierley Kennels with 24 spotless air-conditioned and heated indoor kennels, individual outdoor spaces and a center courtyard with shower facilities. Just a few feet away was the Jan Rees-Jones Canine Center with grooming spa, laundry, veterinary clinic and food-storage and -prep areas.

Food prep area

Food prep area

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Across the paths were cabins specially designed for humans to stay in preparing for the partnerships. Just outside the cabins are outdoor seating and a fire pit. In between the home for the humans and the hounds was the Team Lodge and Training Center.

The grounds included watering areas and loads of room for the pooches to run and just be dogs.

As philanthropists Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones, Margo Goodwin, Mark Grace, Lindalyn AdamsPamela Street, Kristi Hoyl, Todd Howard, CCI National Board Chair John Miller in from New York,  CCI National Board Trustee Bob Street in from Colorado and vets Steve Blackman with his CCI-trained Gotti and  Jason Morgan with his CCI-trained Rue toured the facilities, one person was heard to say, “Not only would my dog love to live here, I’d love to move in, too.”

 Jan Rees-Jones

Jan Rees-Jones

When the official dedication took place in the Training Center with Baylor Health System Foundation Robin Robinson, CCI CEO Paul Mundell, Baylor Irving President Cindy Schamp, Baylor Scott And White Board of Trustee Steve Boyd and CCI Irving Program Manager Sara Koch on stage, Federal Judge Ed Kinkeade, who had spearheaded the project, stole the show. It was nothing new. He usually is a true-blue scene stealer. Ed told how his beloved pooch Bo had been the typical dog until they decided to enroll in the Baylor Animal Assisted Therapy program.

Steve Boyd, Paul Mundell, Cindy Schamp, Ed Kinkeade and Robin Robinson

Steve Boyd, Paul Mundell, Cindy Schamp, Ed Kinkeade and Robin Robinson

It was through the program that Ed came to realize and appreciate the value of using dogs to help patients improve their lives. He mounted an effort to land the highly renowned Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) for North Texas. By landing such a facility, it meant that Texans in need of such companions would not have relocate to CCI facilities in other states that have resulted in 4,797 teams of humans and dogs since its founding in July 1975.

Started in California, the CCI program is a lengthy one, where puppies (Labrador retrievers, gold retrievers and crosses of the two breeds) live with “puppy raisers” for 14-16 months before undergoing a six- to nine-month training course with professional trainers at the center. They learn everything from basic obedience, working with wheelchairs to learning over 40 commands to help their human companions. They are especially trained to serve as service dogs, facility dogs, skilled companions and hearing dogs and are provided to those in need free of charge.

After three years of negotiating, the deal was cut and the facility was located in Ed’s hometown of Irving.

Jan Rees-Jones and Ed Kinkeade

Jan Rees-Jones and Ed Kinkeade

Ed recalled how in going through a training program in preparation for the AAT test, the trainer told Ed, “Bo is doing great.” On the other hand, the trainer suggested that Ed needed some work. He then said that despite his own many accomplishments both on and off the bench, he had a twinge of humility when a patient asked, “Are you the guy with Bo?”

At one point breaking from his affable charm, Ed teared up and recalled his late partner. It was apparent that Bo’s talents in inspiring others had included Ed, after whom the Texas campus was named.

A Faux Tale

Editor’s note: I need apologize for any misunderstanding about this post. It was originally written on February 24, 2010. We had included the date at the bottom of the post, but evidently it wasn’t enough. Thank you for all the kind comments. Even today, they provide such great comfort. May everyone have a Faux in their life.

It was 14 years ago on March 17 that a marvelous litter of Australian Shepherds was born in our neighborhood. Six weeks later while walking my cantankerous Border Collie Chauncey, I saw the litter and immediately spotted one out of the dozen that seemed to be the center of attention. All the others wanted to play with her because she was such a happy little soul and such a great sport. I didn’t need another dog, but there was just something about her that was magical, so I asked if I could just take her home for one night. Chauncey was not pleased, but it was for just one night.

Baby Faux

Baby Faux

The next morning I called our neighbors and asked how much the puppies were. They said “$250, but they would sell her to me for $200.” At that time they might as well have said a thousand, but I decided that my rainy day fund could help me out this one time and paid the full $250. I wasn’t going to treat this pick of the litter with anything but top dollar.

While Chauncey was still not very happy about our new roommate, she adjusted because the puppy hero-worshiped her. I always thought that I trained the puppy, but looking back I realize now that it was Chauncey who taught the puppy how to raise a human.

Eventually after many name tries (Clancy, Mary Posa, etc.), we settled on Faux Marble because her coat looked like fake marble. Over the years, she grew from an adorable puppy to a rather beautiful Aussie. Yet, she retained her Miss Congeniality title with everyone and every dog that she met.

Faux

Faux

She excelled in her puppy obedience, so much so that she moved up in the ranks to advanced, super-duper obedience. There was talk of her competing in trials, but I decided that she wasn’t meant for that.

Then one day I read a notice in the paper that Baylor Healthcare System’s Animal Assisted Therapy program was testing candidates for its program. It sounded interesting and I thought it would be nice for Faux to have people pat her on the head. After all, what more does a therapy dog do, but visit people in the waiting room? So, we signed up for the test.

While testing for therapy programs differ, the Baylor test under the direction of Linda Marler is right up there with facing the Supreme Court. As we waited in the outer room for our turn, we watched other canine/human partners leave the testing area looking like they had just weathered the Iditarod. What had I gotten us into?

As we were called into the room filled with veteran teams of the therapy program, I hesitated but Faux pulled the leash and headed into the room as if she knew exactly what to do. During the test, they did all types of things to rattle us. I was a bit shell shocked, but Faux never wavered. It was as if she had been studying for this opportunity all of her life. At the end of the test, Linda announced to the veteran therapy program teams that Faux had passed the test with flying colors. I think they let me in because Faux was so outstanding.

That day led to a journey taking us far beyond the waiting rooms. We would work in various areas of Baylor — the Baylor Institute of Rehabilitation, the psych unit, the transplant floor, and Our Children’s House. Faux would do tricks to entertain both patients and staff. She especially loved the staff who always greeted her with special pats and knew just the right spot to scratch.

Faux

Faux

But it wasn’t all tricks like shake, sit, and down. No, the dogs were expected to work with the patients and therapists. While at home the canines were just regular pooches, but once inside Baylor they became working staff demonstrating patience and showing no apprehension of the equipment, noises, and smells in the facility. They proudly wore their uniforms of blue bandannas, leashes, and collars. You got the impression that these dogs knew they had a talent and an awareness like the rescue dogs in Haiti or the service dogs that aid the blind. They were simply cut out for this type of work and thrived on it.

What amazed me about Faux and the other dogs in the program was how time and time again they would sense a patient who needed a certain type of attention. They tended to gravitate to the patient who had left a pet at home weeks ago and needed some “unconditional medicine” that wasn’t in medical books. Simply by putting her head on the knee of someone, or letting a child pull a little too long on her ear, she just knew how to handle those moments without a word being said.

I would kiddingly say that she was the volunteer and I was simply her escort.

But it wasn’t all work. There was the infamous annual Pink Pooch Parade at Baylor’s Plano facility in October. Each of the poor therapy dogs was humiliated by being dressed in various pink outfits and then paraded through the hospital as part of breast cancer awareness month. It was at this time that Faux thought I was akin to a stage mother of a baby beauty contestant.

Faux

Faux

One of the lessons that I learned from the program was the phrase, “crossing the rainbow bridge.” I had never heard of it. But every now and then I would get an email from Linda that one of the dogs in the program had died, or “crossed over the rainbow bridge.” It was a painful email that all the program teams dreaded. Not only for the loss of a marvelously giving animal, but also because we knew that one day it would hit our team.

This morning Baylor lost one of its volunteers. Faux crossed the rainbow bridge.

-Originally written on February 24, 2010

Lesson Learned: Volunteering Is A Two-Way Street

Occasionally, I share something personal and hope you don’t mind if I do that just now. Back in late February I lost my beloved Faux (pictured). Despite my telling one and all that I knew that day would come, I was far from prepared for the loss. In my “depression,” I took time off from my volunteer work at Baylor’s Animal Assisted Therapy Program. It  just hurt too much to return to a program that Faux had introduced me to.

Big mistake!

Yesterday was my first day back at AATP with Nellie (pictured) at my side. It was like breathing for the first time in months. Seeing and visiting with the patients and staff was gratifying to say the very least. Hearing patients talk about their pets that they hadn’t seen in days, and in some cases months, made me realize that Nellie was the canine fix they needed. One person admitted that they hadn’t had a dog since they were a child and recalled the most endearing details of that long-ago friend.

So what was the lesson here? Just when you think you’re doing someone else a favor, you realize that in reality you are doing yourself the favor. Volunteering is a two-way street. Not only do you help others, but you help yourself to be part of a much bigger and better effort.

While you know I will always regret my loss of Faux, I am so grateful that she introduced me to volunteering and the remarkable people in that universe.