Chris Schirle is so proud of his new friend "Milano". Schirle relies on a wheelchair to get around because of his multiple sclerosis, but he has a much better quality of life, thanks to his highly-trained service dog.
He was connected with Milano through a Santa Rosa organization called Canine Companions for Independence.
"She has been providing assistance for me so that indeed each day, I experience increased independence, being on my own, and feeling good about that," said schirle.
These highly-trained assistance dogs are part of a national program that begins with their breeding.
"The puppies are born in my house. I assist the mom in her whelping, basically I'm a canine midwife. And then throughout the duration of the seven to eight weeks that the puppies are in my house, I monitor their weight gains, their health, we do exercises to expose them to specific stimuli," said Emily Williams from Canine Companions for Independence.
Then, the puppies are shipped to volunteers around the country, who raise them for a year and a half and give them up. They're sent back to Santa Rosa to be trained to help adults or children with physical or developmental disabilities, or wounded veterans, or to be used in therapy or educational training or for the hard of hearing or deaf.
The clients undergo a two-week training session with their dogs to make sure they're a good match. Finally, they attend an emotional graduation ceremony to formally receive their dogs.
Chandler Metcalf, 13, has cerebral palsy. He spoke for the group.
"My parents have told me for a long time that I have the power within me to change the world, I can't do it alone and now I have Bernice as a partner to not just open doors and pick up stuff for me, but to help me open opportunities for both of us that hopefully can help other people," said Metcalf.
The service dogs are provided for free, which means Canine Companions for Independence relies on donations. It's a lifelong and life-changing commitment.
So ABC7 salutes Canine Companions for Independence for helping those with disabilities. The group has a big fundraiser called "Bone Appetite" Sept. 18, 2011 in Santa Rosa.