Canine Companions: Conner and Charlie | VailDaily.com

Canine Companions: Conner and Charlie

Judea Franck
Canine Companions

Conner's dog Charlie provides him with the love and confidence that he needs. Conner was born missing most of his fingers. Charlie was matched with Conner as part of the Canine Companions for Independence program.

ESTES PARK — Conner, of Estes Park, is an 11-year-old boy with big brown eyes and a big bright smile. Like many of his peers, he loves video games, baseball, fishing and art. However, what sets Conner apart is that he was born missing most of his fingers. Although dexterity can be a challenge, Conner's biggest obstacle is self-confidence.

With the sensitive teenage years fast approaching, Conner's parents worried that his self-consciousness would worsen. They decided to apply for an assistance dog for Conner from Canine Companions for Independence. Canine Companions is a nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly-trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships.

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

In February, Conner was matched with assistance dog Charlie V, a black Labrador/golden retriever mix.

"Charlie is the best dog ever," said Conner. "He's my best friend. He's really playful and he snuggles!"

The unconditional love Charlie provides was exactly what Conner's parents were hoping to find for their son.

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"Charlie is Conner's companion," said Jann, Conner's mother. "He is always by Conner's side and that gives him confidence in public. Conner is proud to have this really cool, well-behaved dog."

"Charlie is a support system for Conner. He's really shy and Charlie makes him a stronger person. Charlie helps him shake things off when people make comments. Conner doesn't care as much because Charlie is with him and brings out the best in him," said Shawn, Conner's father.

On top of that, Charlie is trained in about 40 commands. He helps retrieve and carry objects that Conner can't, along with a host of other "tricks."

On Saturday, the community will have the opportunity to see the diverse people who benefit from Canine Companions assistance dogs at DogFest Walk 'n' Roll Vail Valley in Edwards. The event is at Freedom Park from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and features 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 through Saturday to DogFest will be matched up to $25,000. Visit http://www.cci.org/dogfestvail for more information.