Dog of the Day
by Carie Broecker
Photos Courtesy of Nancy Brennan
Riva is a calm, intelligent, highly trained, happy service dog. From birth, this exceptional dog has been prepared for her role as a canine companion. She was specifically bred by Canine Companions for Independence’s (CCI) scientific breeding program. CCI has found that a very careful breeding process is the only way to produce a sufficient number of dogs that have what it takes to complete their program successfully to meet the great demand for highly skilled assistance dogs.
CCI provides trained dogs, free of charge, to adults and children with disabilities such as spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, arthritis, and cerebral palsy. The service dogs are trained to understand and complete forty commands including pulling a wheelchair, pushing buttons for an elevator, and even assisting with transactions such as transferring money, receipts, and packages. Despite all the skills these dogs possess, many service dog recipients feel that above all else it is the emotional and social support their service dog provides that makes the biggest difference in their lives.
Riva was born in a volunteer breeder/caretaker’s home and spent the first eight weeks of her life being nurtured there. At eight weeks old, Riva was entrusted into the care of CCI volunteer puppy raiser Cindy Lawton and her partner, Valle Poyser. Cindy has raised eight puppies in the last nine years. She is passionate about her volunteer work after seeing first hand the life-changing difference service dogs make in the lives of people with disabilities.
After eighteen months with Cindy and Valle, Riva’s care and training were turned over to the capable and caring staff at the Jean and Charles Schulz campus in Santa Rosa. She lived on site for nine months to complete her training, which included reinforcing her basic commands and learning to work around a wheelchair. Upon completion of the program, Riva had mastered the forty specialized commands required to graduate.
In August 2008, after graduation, Riva was partnered with Carmel, California resident, Ed Barker. Ed had suffered a spinal cord injury in 1985 as the result of an auto accident and has been in a wheelchair ever since. He is a very kind, upbeat man who has always been independent despite his disability. Ed, a lifelong dog lover, spent the past 24 years without a dog. He chose not to apply for a service dog because he felt there were other people with disabilities that needed more assistance than he.
It wasn’t until 2006, 22 years after Ed’s accident, that a friend convinced him that a service dog would make a big difference in his life. Ed went ahead and filled out an application without much concern for the outcome. After an assessment of Ed’s situation and needs, he was added to a waiting list for a service dog. Two years later he was notified that they would be partnering him with a dog. The next step was two weeks of team training where Ed would meet Riva and learn the proper care and handling of his very special canine companion.
Ed says, “Riva is a dedicated and serious worker. She tries hard to please, even when she doesn’t understand what is wanted. If she is given a command that is a bit unusual, she will try various other tasks in an attempt to guess what is being asked of her.”
Riva’s main contribution to Ed’s life is getting him out a lot, something he thought was important for him as he gets older. Like anyone who has a dog that loves walks and playtime, Ed makes sure that Riva gets her fresh air and exercise regardless of the weather or other daily responsibilities. Is he getting her out or is she getting him out? Either way they both benefit.
Riva goes to the park with Ed’s partner, Nancy, three or four times a week to chase her favorite flying squirrel toy, run on green grass, and play with other dogs. Every evening Ed and Riva go out for a ninety-minute walk.
Riva sleeps soundly at night after a long day of work and play. When morning comes she is eager to start the day. She waits until she is sure Ed and Nancy are awake and then she jumps up on the bed for kisses and snuggle time. Ed and Nancy sing her their version of “Singin’ in the Rain” which includes a few “Riva is a good dog” lyrics. The beginning of another glorious and blessed day!
Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) is a nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships. They rely on private donations and volunteers to provide their life changing services. For information about helping or applying for a service dog, contact www.cci.org or 1-800-572-BARK.