“Recollect that the Almighty, who gave the dog to be companion of our pleasures and our toils, hath invested him with a nature noble and incapable of deceit.”


Rogena Schuyler Silverman

Loyal friends, energetic playmates, competitive sportsmen, and excellent listeners, dogs and humans have bonded a unique relationship on the planet. It is this relationship—and a desire to please us—that gives dogs the capacity to excel in special training that enables them to provide extraordinary levels of guidance, assistance, and safety services to special needs individuals. Therapy dogs are the embodiment of these qualities.

Therapy dogs not only offer companionship to people with disabilities, they can enhance their lives by providing highly trained skills, performing menial tasks their owners are unable to do—such as opening doors, switching on lights, and retrieving out-of-reach objects. Therapy dogs can also work closely with physical and occupational therapy professionals, assisting them with their clients’ therapeutic sessions. Santa Rosa, Calif-based Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) is a nonprofit group that breeds, trains, and raises assistance dogs, then matches them with eligible individuals, and provides ongoing support to ensure and enhance the future of these human/canine partnerships.

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One example of such a union is the pairing of San Diego-based occupational therapist, Laura Nelson, and her therapy dog, Odele—who Nelson received from CCI nearly 2 years ago. The two have been a successful therapy team ever since. Nelson, whose client base is specifically outpatient adults, says the dog assists her clients with their exercise routines. Whether it is working with clients on rotation, or standing balance with reach, Odele is often a “hands-on” participant. Nelson also notes that range-of-motion exercises can be greatly enhanced by a client’s motivation to touch and stroke a dog. There are also times when Nelson’s clients ask that Odele simply lay beside them during their sessions, because they find it comforting and inspiring to have a dog nearby.

“We’re a team,” Nelson says. “Odele is my therapy partner and my friend. When I’m with her, it’s like being with the most popular girl on campus. We have a very close bond.”

Ultimately, working with therapy dogs provides a plethora of benefits to individuals with disabilities, as well as their therapists, while bestowing a positive emotional element to everyone around them. It seems that dogs are the perfect companions.

—Rogena Schuyler Silverman

To learn more about Canine Companions for Independence, go to www.cci.org, or call (866) 224-3647.