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

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.

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

IMG_2933

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.