By Britt Moreno
DENVER (CBS4) – “This is not work for her. This is fun,” said dog owner Steve. His dog Yampa tirelessly pulls off some incredible feats to make Steve’s life easier. He and his Labrador Retriever are best friends.
To know their bond you have to see how they work together. Steve has multiple sclerosis and describes his ability to move his limbs as “a gentle slope down. Every year it gets worse.”
Yampa is happy to be his new set of paws. What she does is nothing short of amazing.
Steve can ask Yampa to bring his groceries into the house. This involves her clenching down on a rope tethered to a big container full of bags. Then she drags the bin to the back door. There she mouths a rope and pries open the door. She does not let go until Steve is safely inside. Yampa turns on the lights for Steve, she picks up things beyond his reach like his shoes. If he forgets something in his pants’ pocket Yampa will run upstairs on command to fetch his jeans.
She is able to retrieve packages from the front porch. Yampa can even pick up her own water and food bowls. She does all this for some words or praise or the occasional treat.
Perhaps more than helping Steve live more comfortably day to day, Yampa has allowed Steve to reclaim his independence. He is a true Colorado guy, born and raised in the Centennial state. He describes going out “in the wilderness three, four days to ski and ride motorcycles” prior to his diagnosis. For a time he was robbed of his ability to be alone. That’s what bugs him the most about dealing with this disease that disables the central nervous system.
During his research for help, Steve learned about a local organization called Canine Partners of the Rockies. This nonprofit raises puppies and trains them to be then handed over to Coloradans who don’t have complete function of their arms and legs. He put his name on a waiting list and after five years a furry, floppy eared angel swooped into his life.
CBS4’s Britt Moreno asked Steve “This has to be a huge weight off your shoulders?” and he replies “and to those around me. They are not worried as well (when I am alone).”
Moreno sat in on a training session over at Canine Partners of the Rockies which brought Yampa and Steve together. Volunteers train labs to shut kitchen drawers and pick up cellphones and reading glasses. They train dogs to be an emotional support as well.
These pups are sometimes sent to classrooms with children with special needs or they go to people losing mobility in their limbs.
“We use verbal cues because so many of our clients cannot use their arms,” executive director Angela Eaton said.
The dogs will end up learning about 100 words and cues. They go through two years of training.
This organization runs on the generosity of others. They raise puppies which means incurring the costs of veterinary visits and food. It costs about $24,000 to care for a therapy dog. If you factored all the volunteers’ time for training and caring for these dogs it would cost $63,000.
Canine Partners of the Rockies matches the dog to the person through personality tests and even spends hours training the person to be able to communicate with the dog.
“We provide lifetime support for that partnership through retirement even,” Eaton said.
This is a relief for Steve, who knows Yampa is nearing the end of her working days. She is now struggling with rheumatoid arthritis.
Funny how life works, right? The dog who helps Steve get around is now having trouble moving herself.
Steve once again has found himself on the waiting list for another dog. He imagines Yampa will show the new pup some old tricks.
Canine Partners of the Rockies is all donation based. They desperately need monetary donations, supplies, volunteers and puppy raisers.
A note from Britt Moreno:
I have always loved animals and grew up with dogs. Big ones! My husband and I got married last December and the week after we were married, we brought home a 14 pound, fur baby. Instantly we went from a duo to a family of three! Knox is a black lab now almost 70 pounds. He is wildly spirited, ever so naughty, loving, sweet, talkative (my husband says like his mom!) and incredibly in tune with us. He has spun our world upside down and has changed us for the better.
For my Together 4 Colorado holiday story I wanted to showcase a nonprofit that pairs our four-legged friends with people. Canine Partners of the Rockies impressed me because they raise and train dogs to only go to Coloradans. These dogs touch their owners’ hearts like Knox has done to us. We only hope they know how much we love them.
Dogs like Yampa and Knox have left us all wondering “what would we do without them?” If you have ever loved a dog I hope this story resonates with you.