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FORT WORTH (CBSNewsTexas.com) – Texas is known as the Lone Star state, paying tribute to the flag, which features a single star that represents the state’s independence. Well, CBS News Texas has a special tie to the name now, as well, as dogs give those in need independence of their own.
CBS News Texas has partnered with Canine Companions to follow one puppy’s two-year journey to becoming a service dog—and: Lonestar!
Out of the four options—Lonestar, Longhorn, Luchesse and Luka—Lonestar garnered the most votes: 45% of 579 votes.
Now, we’ll wait to meet our three-week-old pup, who was born Sept. 30, in person next month. We hope you’ll continue along with us on this pawsome journey as we check in with Lonestar on a weekly basis as he learns skills that will make a world of difference to someone in need.
What does Canine Companions do?
Canine Companions is a nonprofit that trains puppies to be service dogs for those with disabilities. Each year, there are about 950 puppies born within the organization and with a 55% success rate, some 400 dogs graduate the service dog program.
Each dog is specifically matched with a person, based on the individual’s lifestyle and needs, as well as the dog’s personality.
“Just like people, all of our dogs have different personalities and temperaments and so that contributes to the wait time—finding the right match between a dog and the person,” said Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Courtney Craig.
Puppies at Canine Companions are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, or a cross between the two! Lonestar will be a cross.
“We have used other breeds and rescue dogs, but we found that these breeds specifically produce the right temperament for the work they do, they’re a good size and they typically enjoy the work they do,” Craig continued.
The puppies at Canine Companions are named after turning about 3-weeks old. Why an L name, you might ask? Well the staff cycles through the letters of the alphabet to name each litter of puppies and this go around, we had the opportunity to follow one of the L-litter puppies.
At 8-weeks old, they will start their training like any other puppy-learning their name, potty training, etc. Then, they will learn specific foundational and socialization skills while they live with a volunteer puppy-raiser for about a year and a half.
“There’s a higher level of training and socialization that comes with being a service dog. The puppy raiser’s role is to build the initial foundation of this future service dog. They do basic obedience training like “sit” and “down” and “stay,” and teach them to be a nice dog at home. And then, once they’re old enough they start going to outings in the community,” Criag explained. “When you think about a service dog that’s trained for someone with a disability, they’re going to be out and about with someone who’s out in the world. We want a service dog to be confident and focused in a variety of settings and that all starts as a puppy.”
Puppies do come with a cost, but thanks to the volunteer puppy-raisers—who take on the costs for food, vet care, toys, etc.—and generous donors, Canine Companions is able to give a fully-trained service dog to someone with disabilities for free.
After the puppy leaves the puppy-raiser, Craig says he or she goes through more advanced training with professional Canine Companions staff. Daily training focuses on skills that clients will need, such as picking up dropped items, opening or closing doors and turning lights on or off. Once a puppy gets to professional training, they’re evaluated on their skills, strengths and personality, which determines whether the dog can be matched with someone purposefully or whether the dog may be a better fit as a pet.
Jeanette Kaliska, who has type 3 spinal muscular atrophy, says Canine Companions has given her independence. Currently, Fiji III helps her with everyday life. But, she previously had Jolly for eight years and Serena for about 10 years. Thelma III was Kaliska’s third service dog, who is now retired and living at home with her. You can watch their stories below.
Naomi Marteeny is another person who has benefitted from a Canine Companions pup. Libby was Naomi’s first service dog, who is now retired. Windsor has taken over to help Marteeny, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. You can watch their stories below.
Canine Companions is always doing community outreach to reach people who may be interested in applying to be a puppy raiser. If your schedule doesn’t allow for taking on that task but you still want to help support the mission, you can sponsor one of the puppies at Canine Companions’ website. You get a sponsorship kit with a certificate, a plush version of the puppy and more, along with email updates on the puppy’s journey to becoming a service dog.