While most people teach their dogs to heel, a Santa Rosa, California-based nonprofit is also training the four-legged creatures to heal.
Canine Companions has raised, trained and placed more than 7,500 dogs since it was founded in 1975.
The nonprofit gives dogs to adults and children with disabilities at no cost, along with providing the animals for use in healthcare organizations, courtrooms and educational facilities. Paige Mazzoni, CEO of Canine Companions, said service dogs help people feel more confident engaging in their communities, and facility dogs used in healthcare provide comfort to patients and staff during difficult situations.
“They are really motivational,” she said.
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Although the nonprofit’s dogs can be found in hospitals nationwide, Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White Health is the first health system to operate one of Canine Companions’ training centers. It provides financial support to the first-of-its-kind affiliate center—located at its Kinkeade Campus in Irving, Texas—and encourages its staff members to volunteer with the organization.
The dogs spend the first two years of their lives learning basic skills, getting socialized and mastering 45 tasks, such as turning book pages, applying a calming pressure across a patient’s lap and retrieving items. Patients needing occupational or physical therapy can build arm strength by tossing balls and playing fetch with the dogs. The canines also learn specialized jobs to serve their handler’s individual needs.