Canine commitment in Vail Valley |

Canine commitment in Vail Valley

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominque Taylor/Vail DailyDanny, a golden retriever, sits patiently at Shannen McNamara's feet, left center, as she chats with classmates at the start of her environmental science class Monday at Battle Mountain High School in Colorado's Vail Valley

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado –Shannen McNamara, of Colorado’s Vail Valley, loves dogs a little more than the average teenager.

McNamara, a senior at Battle Mountain High School, is never without her dog, Danny, because she’s training the golden retriever puppy to be an assistance dog for people with disabilities. Shannen also has two other dogs at home.

Shannen asked her dad, Bill McNamara, if she could raise a dog for people with disabilities and he automatically thought there would be a huge waiting list for something like that. Turns out the organization that gave them Danny is eager for volunteers, Bill McNamara said.

“The waiting list is with the disabled (people) who are anxiously awaiting trained dogs,” he said.

The McNamaras heard about Paw Pals, the nonprofit dog-training program based near Colorado Springs, through a friend who was raising an assistance dog in the valley. The McNamaras went to the dog’s graduation party in Colorado Springs and saw the dog’s new owner and how much the program was helping.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” Bill McNamara said.

Since Shannen had the idea to take on the task, Danny is her responsibility. She brings the dog to school with her every day and he accompanies her wherever she goes, whether it’s the grocery store or the gas station.

Danny is constantly in training, and Shannen said she spends about an hour a day with him doing more intense training.

“It’s a big commitment,” she said.

It’s not all work for Danny, though – he gets to play and be a regular dog sometimes, too. It helps that the McNamaras already have two playmates for Danny.

That’s the thing with trainers – they can already own dogs and they don’t need any training experience, Bill McNamara said. Paw Pals provides all of the training information and seminars, while volunteers just need to prove they’re committed.

Danny goes to Colorado Springs about once a month to go through a training seminar. If the organization’s experts think Danny is falling behind schedule, they’ll make sure the trainers learn how to get him back on track. If that doesn’t work, the organization will take the dog back and get him up to speed, then return him to his trainers, Bill McNamara said.

“You really have to stick with his training,” he said.

Time isn’t the only commitment. Paw Pals volunteers also have to spend money on their dogs. The McNamaras paid to have Danny neutered and they also buy his food, but it’s all worth it, Bill McNamara said.

It also helps that Shannen works as a veterinarian technician at Mountain Mobile Veterinarian in Eagle, so she gets a discount on most things, she said.

Bill McNamara said he hopes people in the valley will volunteer because he thinks it’s a worthy cause. There’s plenty of dog-lovers here who would be great trainers, he said.

Teenagers like Shannen who decide to do it can log a lot of community service hours for their college applications, too, he said.

As for the time it takes to train Danny, the McNamaras wish it could be longer. They got Danny when he was 10 weeks old last December and knew he’d be theirs for 14 to 17 months.

Shannen and Bill McNamara said that even though they knew they weren’t keeping him from the start, it’s hard not to get attached.

“That’s going to be a tough day (when we have to say good-bye),” Bill McNamara said.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at

Paw Pals Assistance Dogs is always looking for committed trainers. Call Sandy Miller at 719-495-5696 or visit for more information.

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