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.

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!

The Rees-Jones Foundation Provides $2M For Canine Companions For Independence At Baylor, Scott & White Health Kinkeade Campus

Forget that morning “wake-up” coffee. The Rees-Jones Foundation is providing the perfect way to start the day for a second day in a row! It’s been revealed that the Foundation has provided a $2M-grant for the creation of the Canine Companions for Independence at Baylor, Scott & White Health Kinkeade Campus in partnership with Baylor Scott & White Health. With the help of philanthropy, Baylor will take care of the $9M costs of building and maintaining the facility, while Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) will be responsible for the day-in-day-out management.

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

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

Considered the country’s leading source of service dogs, the CCI started back in 1975 and thanks to Jean Schulz and her late husband/cartoonist Charles “Papa of Snoopy” Schulz, it has flourished bringing together “exceptional dogs with exceptional people.” The program is an intense…no, make that extremely intense program for both canines and humans. But the results literally change the lives of men and women, both physically and emotionally.

With Jan Rees-Jones seated at a table, the packed room of community leaders and philanthropists at the Baylor Health Care System Foundation Board luncheon Tuesday had no idea the announcement was going to be made. Instead they were prepared to learn about this remarkable, life-changing program that would serve as the CCI South Central Region encompassing all of Texas.



Designed by T Howard and Associates, the center will provide the ideal facilities for the training of specially bred dogs like Rue and preparing the human/canine teams for their lives together. It will have 24 kennels and between six and eight dormitory rooms that are especially designed for humans with cognitive and physical challenges. According to CCI, the ultimate goal is to graduate 60 teams a year.

While some folks may think 60 doesn’t seem like a huge number, realize that last year CCI produced 289 partnerships. The next largest provider of service animals resulted in around 50 teams last year.

To show its appreciation for the Rees-Jones Foundation’s gift, Baylor Health Care System Foundation President Robin Robinson announced that the center would be called The Jan Rees-Jones Canine Center.

Located in Irving and slated to open this summer, the center is the first partnership between CCI and a health care institution.

Thanks to the Rees-Jones Foundation, the Baylor Scott & White folks and other philanthropists, this landmark could be just the beginning of future CCI/healthcare groups working together for the betterment and wellbeing of people in need.

More deets will follow in the days ahead, but did want you to start your day off with great news. If you want to know firsthand how CCI has made a life-changing difference in the lives of disabled humans, watch the video of retired-Staff Sergeant Jason Morgan, who brought tears to the eyes of those present, while his “canine companion” Rue lay by his side. He laughed that she was probably a bit weary hearing his story.

BTW, they’re signing up volunteers for the program and still welcoming donations that will benefit the Kinkeade Campus.

* Graphic provided by Baylor Health Care System Foundation