Dog nonprofit has a large local presence |

Dog nonprofit has a large local presence

NIKKI KATZeagle county correspondent
NWS CCI Dog PU 1-4

EAGLE COUNTY – Professor Richard Collins at CU Boulder was lecturing to law students when he was interrupted by a strange noise coming from Jeanette Lawler’s desk. Her dog, Justin, was snoring loudly by her feet. Lawler, a Wheat Ridge resident, applied for a service dog from a nonprofit organization called Canine Companions for Independence after a car accident in 1992 left her paralyzed from the neck down. Now, she hardly goes anywhere without Justin, her yellow Labrador.Lawler finished her master’s degree with Justin by her side. Graduate school was such a positive social experience for her, she decided to apply to law school, she said. At school, Justin has served as an “ice breaker,” she said.”It was much easier to warm up to students in class. They would approach me and ask me about the dog,” Lawler said.

Justin has played a large role in Lawler’s confidence and success, she said.”I’m not the girl in the wheelchair, I’m the girl with the dog. It’s important to feel that sense of normalcy,” Lawler said. “With him, I feel safe and secure to do whatever it is I need to do.”In addition to providing companionship, Justin is trained to open doors, turn on light switches and push wheelchairs. Because Lawler uses a wheelchair operated by a “suck-and-blow straw,” Justin usually just walks alongside her, but when her wheelchair gets stuck, he barks to call for help, she said.Canine Companions for Independence specially picked a dog for Lawler that would feel rewarded just by hearing the sound of her voice, she said. She can’t pat him on the head or give him a treat, but all he needs is to hear “good boy,” she said.

Raising puppiesVolunteer puppy raisers help Canine Companions for Independence by caring for Labradors, golden retrievers and crosses of the two breeds for almost a year and a half.After a Labrador and golden retriever mix named Terra passed the organization’s temperament and medical tests, she was placed with puppy raisers Bob and Aubyn Howe of Edwards.”Being a puppy raiser is such a commitment of time,” said Canine Companions for Independence board member Anne Roberts, who lives in Edwards. “You’ve got to bring them everywhere – planes, trains and automobiles.”After the dogs are turned in by their puppy raisers, Canine Companions for Independence conducts a six-week professional training course for them.

Supporting the dogsCanine Companions for Independence has to be extremely selective to minimize problems the graduates might have in public, said Canine Companions for Independence Colorado office director Paul O’Brien.”It’s not an easy thing to handle a dog in all those different environments,” O’Brien said. “Our priority is making sure the person who’s handling the dog is safe, the dog is safe, and the general public is safe.”Canine Companions for Independence plans to host a similar fundraiser in Vail on Aug. 28. For more information, visit

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