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Canine group shows public the power of puppies

Greg Marshall, Of the Record Staff

Rydell isn’t a superhero, but he does have some serious puppy power. The yellow lab can open doors, turn lights on and off, retrieve cans and bottles from refrigerators and pick up keys dropped on the floor.

Rydell is one of about 700 dogs trained each year to assist children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities.

Rydell was born in Santa Rosa, Calif., and raised by Melanie Dutcher, the president of Wasatch Champions, the Utah branch of Canine Companions for Independence. The organization is a national nonprofit organization that breeds, trains and places assist dogs where they are needed.

Park City’s Petco will raise money and awareness for the organization Saturday, Aug. 16, with a special event from 2 to 7 p.m.

Participants can meet assist dogs, their grateful owners, puppies-in-training and volunteer puppy raisers such as Dutcher.

Organizers say the event will be held under a canopy in front of the Redstone store. People can play games and win leather leashes, collars and a $25 Petco gift certificate while they canoodle with the canines. Money raised goes to helping train more puppies to help disable kids and adults.

The Dutchers raised Rydell from six weeks until the pup was one-and-a-half years old. They taught him 30 basic commands such as sit, stay and retrieve, in addition to about 15 commands that helped prepare Rydell to help kids.

Today, Rydell belongs to a Utah boy named Nathan who suffers from a developmental disorder similar to Down syndrome, Dutcher said. "From what I know about these kinds of partnerships, when kids have a skilled companion it makes them the cool kids with the dogs."

Dutcher said she has heard that Nathan is talking more since Rydell came to live with him.

Assist dogs, or skilled companions as they are sometimes called, are very comforting to kids with autism or Down syndrome, according to Canine Companions representative Katie Malatino. The organization breeds black and yellow labs, golden retrievers and combinations of the three to be given to volunteers around the country who raise the dogs as pets before they return to school for advanced training.

the time a dog is properly trained and socialized, it is worth about $50,000, but Canine Companions gives the dogs to those in need. The waiting list for a dog with Rydell’s skills is about a year. The bottleneck has to do with the number of volunteer puppy raisers and a paucity of professional trainers.

Only about one in three dogs trained gains the aptitude and skills needed to work with disabled people. However, the pups that do go on to serve humans make a big difference.

"The dogs are a comfort," she said. "They are also great motivators. They serve as a social bridge." Kids who may otherwise be ignored by their peers gain adorable companions and plenty of two-legged friends.

Melanie Dutcher has been a volunteer puppy raiser since 2003. She is currently training her fourth, a black lab named Connor. She teaches him good house manners and takes him to movies and on public transportation when she can – anything to prepare Connor to one day change a life.

Assist dogs can be recognized by their yellow capes and vests. The coverings alert the public and businesses owners to a dog’s status as a human aide. Businesses are required by law to allow assist dogs to enter.

For more information on Canine Companions for Independence, visit http://www.cci.org/ or wasatchchampions.blogspot.com. The organization is looking for volunteer puppy raisers and money donations. Contact Petco at (435) 575-0250.

Petco is going to the dogs

Park City Petco is hosting an event with Canine Companions for Independence on Aug. 16 from 2-7 p.m. Founded in 1975, Canine Companions for Independence, or CCI, is a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships. CCI trains four types of assistance dogs: skilled companions, service dogs, hearing dogs and facility dogs. The dogs and ongoing support are provided free of charge to the recipient.


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