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Assistance Dogs Help San Diegans with Disabilities Thrive

Oceanside CA— Diana and Derek are San Diegans with different disabilities from different corners of the county. However they, and a record-breaking 15 other classmates from four states, gathered in Oceanside a few months ago to get matched with and train alongside their new assistance dogs at Canine Companions for Independence. Canine Companions is a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly-trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships.

Diana, of Oceanside, has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which has affected her balance, strength and fine motor skills. Now, thanks to Service Dog Marvin, she has assistance with everyday tasks that cause her pain. “Marvin tugs the laundry basket outside so I can hang it up to dry,” says Diana. “He opens doors and picks things up for me when I drop them, and he even carries my small purse or phone.”

However, having Marvin by her side has had an even bigger emotional impact. “Before Marvin, I was so limited, both physically and emotionally, that I found it almost impossible to leave my house,” Diana explains. “Now, Marvin and I conquer each day together!”

Among other things, the pair visits hospice patients and takes regular road trips together. Diana’s activity level has increased tremendously with Marvin, along with her quality of life. “Marvin is so much more than a dog to me,” she says. “He is my best friend, my companion, and my assistant. Marvin has given me back my life!”

Derek, of El Cajon, is a C4/5 incomplete quadriplegic and has limited mobility in all four limbs. Service Dog Tonka is making his life easier and more joyful. “He’s changed everything,” says Derek. “I have a better outlook on life. Tonka helps me to be more independent every day. I drop things constantly and Tonka retrieves them. He also opens doors. With Tonka, I don’t have to wait for other people to help me.”

Diana and Marvin and Derek and Tonka graduated together after completing an intense, residential, two-week Team Training course at Canine Companions’ Southwest Regional Center in Oceanside, California. During Team Training, students are strategically matched with assistance dogs and learn how to work with them safely and effectively. The dogs are trained in about 40 commands to help with everyday practical tasks before they are ready to graduate as 24/7 helpers. Thanks to Canine Companions’ generous supporters, the dogs, their training and ongoing follow-up support are provided free of charge.

“I just thank Canine Companions, from the bottom of my heart, for the chance to have more independence and a companion for life,” says Derek. “There are no words to explain how much Tonka has enriched my life as well as those of my family members.”

There are currently 60 Canine Companions assistance dogs helping San Diego county residents with disabilities.