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.
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.
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.
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 Adams, Pamela 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.”
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.
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.
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.