Canine Companions: Brent and Phlox | VailDaily.com

Canine Companions: Brent and Phlox

Judea Franck
Special to the Daily

Brent Baribeau and his service dog, Phlox.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Brent Baribeau is an active guy who lives life to the fullest. His passion is tennis, but he also enjoys skiing and scuba diving. He has a successful career at an advertising agency and he has a beautiful wife and two children. He also uses a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury.

Working around his physical limitations has been a necessity since his injury, but Baribeau's everyday life recently got a whole lot easier. Baribeau received a service dog free of charge from Canine Companions for Independence. Canine Companions breeds, trains and raises assistance dogs for people with disabilities, and provides ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships. Baribeau's dog, Phlox, knows approximately 50 commands, like turning on and off lights, opening doors and picking up dropped objects — seemingly small tasks that make a world of difference.

Baribeau graduated seven years ago from CCI following an intense two-week training program at the Southwest campus in Oceanside, California. During this time, students get matched with a dog and learn how to work with it effectively. The dogs, however, are trained for close to two years before they are ready to help people with disabilities.

"I am a pretty independent guy with a C5-6 spinal cord injury and was not sure how a service dog would help me," Baribeau said of Phlox. "But I was happily surprised at how much Phlox, my Canine Companions for Independence service dog, helps my daily life. She picks up all the things I drop like car keys, business cards, my phone and pens so I can work at my full time job. Phlox helps save me from pain in my shoulders by picking things up."

Phlox also helps break down barriers with others.

"It is easy for adults and children to ask questions about her," said Baribeau. "I'm not the guy in the wheelchair; I am the guy with the dog. I think this will help even more as my sons approach school age and the kids in their classes have questions."

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Baribeau had Phlox to thank for helping him one night when the family wasn't at home.

"I could not reach a vital piece of equipment that fell to an area I could not reach," he said. "Phlox was able to get my phone so I could call for help. She is not only an amazing helper, she is a loved member of our family. Being given this service dog for free from CCI has changed my life and enhanced our family. I can't imagine our lives without Phlox!"

On Saturday, the community will have the opportunity to meet Baribeau and see the other diverse people who benefit from Canine Companions assistance dogs during DogFest Walk 'n Roll Vail Valley at Edwards' Freedom Park from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event will feature a walk followed by a dog-friendly, family-friendly festival to raise funds for Canine Companions. Registration is free, but fundraising is encouraged. Thanks to a special dog named Jake, every $1 donated will be matched up to $25,000. Visit http://www.cci.org/dogfestvail for more information.