Baylor Health Care System Foundation Board luncheons deal with issues facing the healthcare industry. At the 10th floor of the Baylor Charles S. Sammons Cancer Center on Tuesday, February 10, the room was fill with a pretty heady crowd as usual. But there was a common thread for certain folks like Jan Rees-Jones, Diane and Hal Brierley, Trisha Wilson and Marti Carlin. What was the common denominator — the appreciation and respect for animals that assist humans.
It was appropriate since the day’s topic was the Canine Companions for Independence. This program had started in Santa Rosa, California, and flourished thanks to the late Charles Schulz (aka father of Snoopy) and his wife Jean. Over the years their world-class program had bred, trained and provided incredible dogs to aid humans who were disabled in some fashion.
Even the ever-charming Baylor Health Care System Foundation President Robin Robinson admitted that seeing how a multiple sclerosis patient was aided by one of the dogs hit home. His daughter has MS.
He admitted that until he had visited the Santa Rosa campus, he hadn’t realized how the dots were connected. But then he saw how the dogs were bred and trained from birth to accomplish the most amazing tasks.
Robin then announced that the Rees-Jones Foundation had provided $2M for the creation of a CCI South Central Region in North Texas in association with Baylor Scott & White Health. Presently under construction in Irving, the Baylor, Scott & White Health Kinkeade Campus will serve the state of Texas. In appreciation for the donation, Robin revealed that the decision had been made to name the center, the Jan Rees-Jones Canine Center after one of Dallas’ great animal lovers.
The center located in Irving will provide intense training for specially bred and early-life preliminary trained dogs. At the center the dogs and the highly vetted human partners will go through additional training and bonding.
The jammed room of heady types like Baylor Health Care System and Baylor Scott & White CEO Joel Allison, Terry Connor, Board Chair Margo Goodwin, Richard Eiseman, Bob Sanford, Lisa Longino, Beverly Nichols, Leonard Riggs, Elizabeth Denton, Maurine Dickey, Jill Smith, Anita Arnold, Bob Kaminksi, Lindalyn Adams, Cynthia Krause and Keenan Delaney, received the news with applause.
But the program was just starting. Federal Judge Ed Kinkeade told his fellow board members of his dog Beau and their participation in the Baylor Animal Assisted Therapy program that had made him aware of the importance animals served in helping patient regain healthier lives.
He told of his early involvement with the program and attributed it to Baylor AAT head Linda Marler, who was seated in the back of the room with her therapy dog Eli. Linda coordinates 90 teams of animals and humans and their work at the North Texas health care centers.
Then Ed became a stellar storyteller and cheerleader. Perfectly blending humor with touching recalls of his partnership with Beau, he had CEO’s and philanthropists charmed.
The final speaker of the day was Ret. Staff Sergeant Jason Morgan, who told of his debilitating “accident” in South America during his military service.
Seated in his wheelchair with his canine companion, Rue, at his side, he told how they had only recently become partners. His previous canine Napal had been a turning point in his life. His wife had left him with three boys to raise. He had faced numerous surgeries including the loss of his leg. But the dog had been more than an aid. Jason told how when he finally accomplished a life-long goal of accomplishing a marathon, he looked to the finish line and there was Napal waiting for him. That joy amazed even him.
On a side note, he shared that before Napal had entered his life, he sensed people kept their distance due to his being in a wheelchair. But that all changed with Napal at his side. Now people gravitated to “the man with the cool dog.”
As Jason told of his struggles and the difference that CCI had made, grown CEO-types and veteran fundraisers teared up.
Napal died last year and CCI came through with Rue. She’s turned out to be a perfect companion and representative of the program.
Following the luncheon and while waiting for their cars afterward, Jill Smith and Tricia Wilson told how they understood and had witnessed personally the impact of animals in the process of healing.
Come summer, the center is scheduled to graduate its first class of canine companion teams.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about adopting one of the pooches that don’t quite make the cut, get in line. It’s a long one because the dogs that don’t qualify usually end up with their puppy trainers. But, you can always try.