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|Boy's Best Friend|
|Written by Gillian Smith|
|Wednesday, 17 July 2013 13:00|
Companion dog gives family Hope
Dylan King is a typical nine-year-old boy. He likes sports, movies, playing hide and seek with his siblings and hanging out with his dog, Hope. While Hope loves playing in the pool with Dylan and his brother, John Ryan, and sister, Katie, she has given a whole new meaning to “man’s best friend.”
Hope, a black lab, is a companion dog for Dylan, who has Down syndrome. Hope goes wherever Dylan goes and helps him with social and emotional interactions. On any given day, Hope and Dylan can be seen around town with Dylan’s mom, Nancy. When out in public, Hope is hard at work being the best friend for Dylan.
Five years ago, Dylan and his family were on a plane home from a trip to Colorado when Nancy struck up a conversation with a woman next to her. As the two were talking, the woman mentioned a program that trained dogs to help people with a variety of disabilities.
“She got the idea in my head and I couldn’t let it go,” Nancy said. “I did some research on the program and applied to be put on the waiting list for the northeast region.”
Dylan and his family were on the waiting list for a companion dog through Canine Companions for Independence CCI for more than five years. One day, they got a call inviting them to a facility where they would live for two weeks and work with dogs that would eventually become part of their family.
Canine Companions for Independence CCI provides highly trained assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities at no cost to the recipient. On average, it costs $45,000 to raise and train each dog.
The breeding program is headquartered in Santa Rosa, California, where they breed Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and crosses between the two. Dogs are weaned at about eight weeks and are flown to five regional headquarters across the country, where volunteer puppy raisers adopt them. Volunteers take the puppy into their home, raising them and teaching them basic commands and socialization skills.
“The puppy raisers are really the backbones of our or- ganization and we couldn’t serve without them,” said John Bentzinger, CCI public relations consultant. “The socialization is perhaps the most important, because dogs need to be exposed to any and all types of surroundings.”
When the dogs reach a year and a half, they are returned to the regional headquarters, the nearest of which is in Medford, Long Island. They then begin six months of advanced training and learn over 60 commands. Only four out of 10 dogs actually make it through the program. At the end of the two-week training program, there is a graduation ceremony puppy raisers attend to receive diplomas and to turn over their leashes to the new Grad Team.
“It’s incredibly emotional,” Bentzinger said. “There isn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Hope was puppy-raised in the Philadelphia area by a teacher at a Quaker school. She would go to school each day and interact with the children during her 18-month training with her volunteer. After the training process with the volunteer and the Kings, Hope was given to Dylan.
“Hope is a gift to us from CCI and everyone who do- nates to them,” Nancy said. “That is something that is of- ten misunderstood. You are not guaranteed a dog; it takes a great amount of patience.”
That patience paid off, as Dylan now has a friend who can help him in day-to-day activities, like picking up his clothes off the floor and clos- ing drawers. Dylan also has a lot of responsibility in taking care of Hope: he has to feed her, play with her, cut her nails, brush her teeth and clean her ears.
“She helps me,” he said. “And she picks up my laundry off the floor.”
When asked what his favorite part about Hope is, Dylan said it was the color of her eyes and that she plays hide and seek with him and his siblings. In the spring, Dylan and Hope were invited to Fenway Park to help throw the first pitch of the game, after which Dylan got to meet a very special person: Wally the Green Monster. While Hope does not go to school with Dylan, her friendship has made an impact on him. At school, Dylan worked on a project describing his favorite things about Hope.
“Hope, my dog,” Dylan said. “Black, pretty, kind, awesome, good, playful, smart and careful.”
As Dylan and Hope take a walk around the block, Nancy reflects on the response from the neighbors and community members.
"Hope has made a huge difference in Dylan's life," she said. "At the end of the day, I listen outside of his room when he goest to bed and I can hear him talking to her. Looking into his future, it makes me feel secure that he has a friend like her."
Nancy said Katie and John Ryan also deserve a lot of credit, because they understand that Hope is Dylan’s dog.
“It’s not easy for kids to understand the difference, but they have been wonderful sib- lings to Dylan,” she said.
Dylan and Hope both have birthdays in September and Dylan said he is excited about the celebration they will have.
If you see Dylan and Hope out and about in Duxbury, make sure to stop by and say hello, but please don’t pet Hope. When she is out in public she is working and any distraction, such as petting or playing, could derail her efforts to help Dylan and the King family.