Dogs and volunteers lend a paw to disabled
Vail CO, Colorado
EDWARDS ” Anne Roberts used to act alongside actor and comedian Bob Hope, but now she is glad to take a supporting role to some furry, canine stars.
The former actress spent years doing commercials, voiceovers, and even a cabaret act in New York City. Nowadays the Edwards resident spends most of her time and talent providing disabled people with highly-trained assistance dogs through Canine Companions for Independence.
The nonprofit organization breeds and trains dogs to give to disabled or sick people, from the those who use wheelchairs to burn victims. While most people see these dogs helping their owners push elevator buttons, shop for groceries or carry bags, what they do not see is the volunteers who work to make this possible.
Canine Companion’s Vail Valley chapter is just taking off, she said, as more people are becoming aware of its existence and getting involved.
“In this valley there is such a need,” she said. “There are accidents, multiple sclerosis patients, children with autism ” and those are needs we’ve started to meet.”
She and her constant sidekick, a friendly, golden Labrador-retriever mix named Breezy, work to raise funds and awareness, and recruit volunteers. The two have even appeared on local news stations together.
Since Roberts moved to Vail Valley from New York City in 2000 she has performed at various fundraising events and is working on her second CD, which she describes as “smoky, romantic songs.” All the proceeds go to the canine nonprofit.
“I like to see where my efforts and funding can go,” she said. “It’s satisfying to know that my small part is helping society with our dogs.”
The effects of the organization’s dogs go beyond helping a disabled person with everyday tasks, Roberts said. Many recipients are able go back to church, school and work. After she got her dog, one woman even went to law school and opened her own practice.
Many people who were sequestered because of embarrassment or physical limitations can live normal lives with the help of their dogs, said Canine Companion board member and advertising head Bob Solon.
People may be afraid to interact with a disabled person, but a dog helps break that barrier, said the Edwards resident.
“A kid in a wheelchair suddenly becomes the cool kid with the cool dog,” he said.
The specialized dogs also work with patients at hospitals, nursing homes and recovery centers. Roberts said she has seen burn victims in extreme pain make the effort to reach out just so they can pet a dog.
The organization plans to take their dogs’ therapeutic skills to the Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis and the Shaw Regional Cancer Center, both in Edwards.
But one of the most important services the dogs offer is companionship, said supporter Ron Brave of Cordillera.
“There’s a bond of love and friendship there,” he said. “It’s more than just an animal helping someone with personal chores.”
Supporters and volunteers for Canine Companions can help in many capacities, Solon said. Solon, who owned a promoting and advertising company in New York before retiring, has recently launched the group’s national promotion campaign. They have placed ads on television, in magazines, and billboards all over the country.
Solon’s wife, Joan, who has worked with nonprofits for years, helps to organize events. It has become a full-time job, Solon said.
Many people also help by becoming puppy raisers. The specially bred puppies spend 12 to 14 months with their raisers, who volunteer to care for them, teach them basic commands, and socialize them. Then the puppies go through intensive “graduate school” with professional trainers before they are paired with a recipient.
Edwards couple Bob and Aubyn Howe raised a puppy named Terrah, training her and taking her to restaurants, stores and even on airplanes.
Aubyn Howe said they were given books and CDs on how to train their puppy.
Terrah learned quickly, she said, even though she always got very excited upon first meeting people.
“These are just wonderful dogs. It’s fun to see them grow and learn. They’re so smart,” said Bob Howe.
However, Terrah failed the program after a few weeks of the intensive training. Only 65 percent of the dogs graduate from the program. Dogs like Terrah are sent out from the school to life as a pet because they are too friendly, assertive or have some behavior that cannot be broken.
Now Terrah lives happily with the Howes and acts as the constant companion of Aubyn Howe, who has multiple sclerosis. She said she may eventually consider getting a Canine Companions dog, too.
“I’d encourage anybody to be a puppy raiser,” she said. “You help yourself by raising a puppy, and you help someone else who needs it.”
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.