By Joel Hillan

DENVER (CBS4) – Volunteers are coming together to train dogs to be companions for those who need them the most.

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For more than 30 years Canine Companions for Independence have been training dogs to help those in need.

A group of local so-called puppy raisers is coming together to help these Coloradans in need.  The dogs attend obedience training twice a week.

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Amy Olschner is a trainer for CCI and trains the young pups.

“Really they’re working dogs, from day one we’re helping them learn to be a working dog so they’re ready to transition right when they get older,” Olschner said.

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They will eventually be trained to respond to 60 commands, becoming a companion and help to those with disabilities.

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“Turning off lights, picking up and retrieving items, they can pick up an item as small as a coin and give it to somebody,” said Susan Ryan.  She is a volunteer puppy raiser and a physician in Rose Medical Center’s Emergency Department.

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Susan Ryan and her dog Winnie. (credit: CBS)

Ryan loves bringing Winnie to work with her.

“The paramedics don’t even look for me anymore when they come rolling in, they look for Winnie. It’s made such a big difference for them having her around,” she said.

Not only does Winnie help calm the nurses and paramedics, but patients too.

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When a scared young adult with disabilities was struggling to calm down in the emergency department, Ryan said her canine-companion-in-training knew just what to do.

“Winnie instinctively knew to hop up on the bed and lay beside her calmly, and it changed everything. We didn’t have to sedate her. I didn’t have to restrain her. We just talked it through, and she sat and petted Winnie while she was getting sewn up. It really made a big difference,” Ryan said.

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She is one of several volunteer puppy raisers, donating her time and money to raise Winnie.

That is until she is about 18 months old, then the puppies will be sent off for further training and placement.

The highly-trained dogs are provided free of charge to those with whom they are eventually placed.  Each dog will cost about $50,000 from beginning of life to the end, so donations are welcome.

LINK: Canine Companions for Independence 

Joel Hillan anchors CBS4 This Morning on weekends as well as reports stories for CBS4 News at 5 and 6 p.m. Follow Joel on Twitter @joelhillan.

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