IRVING, Texas — Canine Companions for Independence is a national non-profit training assistance dogs for people who need them, for free. In November, more than twenty puppy raisers, who’ve been raising their dogs for up to 18 months, came to Irving, TX to turn those dogs in for professional training. Nine other dogs completed their training and were paired with their new jobs.
Several went to work as facility dogs while the others started their lives as assistance dogs and skilled companions for people with disabilities. People like six-year-old Lyla Norris. Her new dog Juniper will help her to grow more independent while serving up plenty of love and cuddles.
"It feels wonderful, it feels comfortable. I love her, she’s just the perfect thing for us," Lyla said.
When the pair met at the beginning of training, Lyla's mom Megan and dog trainer, Kate Incremona, saw the connection right away.
"She (gives) the perfect snuggles, she helped me and I was like, 'That’s it. That’s the dog that I need," Lyla explained.
According to mom, Megan, "I fell in love with her the minute I met her. I thought it was just, well, maybe it’s the first dog that we met and we’re excited. But I just knew in my heart, even after all the other dogs we met, that she was the one for us."
Incremona said she cautions people not to get too attached to any certain dog at the beginning of training, but when Lyla met Juniper, she knew they’d be great together.
"So during that first interaction with Lila it was just beautiful and they came back the next day and they were like 'Junie B Jones we’re going to be matched with Junie.' We’re like 'don’t get attached, we don’t know that yet,' but we knew that very first day, yeah this is perfect it’s gonna happen."
Lyla has a rare muscle disease called RYR1. According to her mom, there are only about 6,000 people in the whole world with it.
"So what it is, is her muscles just don’t release enough calcium so she had a lot of falls and has some difficulties with everyday tasks like picking things up off the ground or carrying anything heavy," Megan said.
That's why they wanted a dog like Juniper to help Lyla with everyday tasks while also helping her be more social.
According to Lyla, "She’s going to help me clean my laundry help me do my room."
Her mom said, "She’s been helping her pick up her toys and she can retrieve things from the fridge. Anything she might not be able to get, she has trained now to help her."
The family first heard about CCI from a puppy raiser at church two and a half years ago. They said it's been a long wait, but Juniper made the wait worth it.
"She’s just got such a fun personality and I love that about her."
Juniper goes to school with Lyla and also helps with her therapies. They’ve been together for about two-and-a-half weeks and Megan said things are going great.
For Lyla, it’s like having a magical companion, always around to love and cuddle.
"I’m feeling happy that she’s my dog. She can just do all these magical stuff. It’s like one thing that’s hard, the next thing it’s so easy. Like these dogs can help other people that are having difficult stuff so these dogs are very special."
For more information on CCI, or to find out how you can be a puppy raiser visit their website. You can follow Journey’s Journey on KCENTV.com and on Instagram at @kcennews and @LeslieDraffin
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