By SARAH SHMERLING | Managing Editor
Imagine the joy of getting to hang out with a puppy. Now imagine the joy of knowing that puppy will grow up to help a child or an adult with disabilities.
Santa Rosa-based nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence has worked with people since 1975 who are willing to raise a puppy with the long term goal of being placed with a person who will benefit.
Since May of 2014, Palisadian Claire Van Konynenburg and her family have been working with Canine Companions, raising puppies at their home in The Riviera.
“You get the dog at 8 weeks of age,” she explained. “We have them until they’re about 18 or 20 months, then the dog goes to professional training for about six months.”
If they pass that, the dog then gets placed with a child or an adult with disabilities.
Van Konynenburg got involved with the Canine Companions program after she watched her sister raise dogs for a different service program and after she adopted a dog who was released from Canine Companions as a family pet.
“The dogs who don’t make the program are wonderful family dogs,” she shared. “They are oftentimes released for temperament issues, like they don’t like to go through a door unless it was open really wide.”
Ten years later, her kids were asking for another family pet.
“My daughter loves dogs, but I said, ‘If we get another dog, I want to do it with a purpose,’” Van Konynenburg said.
There’s a vetting process to be selected as a trainer, which includes a home visit and interview.
“You have to have an interest in puppies,” Van Konynenburg said of the process. “The time and commitment, to following through, it’s not just about getting a cute puppy.”
When someone takes a puppy in, they become responsible for the price of raising it, including vet bills. Canine Companions breeds its own dogs, which are labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and mixes of the two breeds.
And although complementary to the Guide Dogs for the Blind program (if a puppy doesn’t make the Canine Companions program for any reason, it can be swapped with a Guide Dog to help with the bloodlines), Canine Companions puppies are not trained as seeing eye dogs. Instead, they help out with four areas: service dogs, skilled companion, hearing dogs and facility dogs, like in a courtroom, VA hospital or classroom.
“We’re also trying to get more recipients up in [the Palisades],” Van Konynenburg said. “We’re trying to get more dogs to veterans and kids with autism.”
Van Konynenburg hosts a Canine Companion training class at her home every two weeks. Her family has raised two dogs so far: Petunia and Halifax.
“People ask us how we can give up the dog after raising it,” Van Konynenburg shared, “but when you see the recipient and see how they help, it’s not hard.”
For more information or to attend a class, visit cci.org or reach out to Van Konynenburg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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