The organization breeds and trains Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers to become service companions or for other individual and facility needs.
Only five months into Sgt. Stefan LeRoy’s deployment to Afghanistan, he was on a routine foot patrol when his platoon’s blocking position was hit by two Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
“As I moved to their position to provide aid, my first thoughts were, ‘I’m going to go help them. I know there are more IEDs, but that’s what you do. You do the right thing,’” explains Stefan. “In the military, we know the strength of one comes from the strength of many and that we never leave a fellow solider behind.”
But Stefan stepped on another IED while carrying a severely injured platoon member to a medevac helicopter.
“I lost my legs in Afghanistan while trying to carry others to safety. Now it is their memory, their courage, their sacrifice that carries me forward.”
“There was this desire, even though I didn’t have my legs, to run, bike, to go fast again. I wanted to see progress,” explains Stefan. Today, he uses prosthetics and has Canine Companions for Independence® Service Dog Knoxville to help him move forward and go further. Today, Stefan is very active in adaptive sporting events and running.
Since his recovery, Stefan has competed twice in the Invictus Games, an elite competition for veterans, as well as participating in the Boston Marathon. Whether Stefan is using his running blades, his regular prostheses, or going for a swim, Knoxville is always there on the sidelines — ready to help retrieve Stefan’s equipment and provide loving support after a long, hard workout.
Although it costs approximately $50,000 to breed, raise, train, and support each assistance dog, Canine Companions is able to provide dogs like Knoxville and a lifetime of support free of charge to recipients like Stefan — thanks to generous donors.
“I’m pretty stable when I’m walking or moving, but bending over is extremely difficult without losing my balance,” explains Stefan. “Knoxville is exactly what I was looking for: a highly trained service dog who was bred and raised to handle everything in stride. He knows over 40 commands to help make life easier."
"In those situations when I don’t feel comfortable with my disability, Knox is there to make me feel more comfortable,” says Stefan. “Knox is an absolutely amazing service dog.”
In the military, the strength of one is only possible thanks to the strength of many. At Canine Companions, the strength and impact of one service dog is only possible thanks to the strength of many supporters.
Each Canine Companions dog is born in the homes of loving volunteers and spend 18 months with a volunteer puppy raiser. Puppy raisers teach basic obedience and crucial socialization, exposing the dog to sights, sounds, and smells they might encounter as a working assistance dog.
Dogs return to one of Canine Companions’ six training centers to receive six-to-nine months of professional training where they learn advanced commands such as pulling a manual wheelchair, opening doors, and alerting to important sounds in the environment. Assistance dogs are matched with their new handlers during an intensive two-week training class based on the dog’s temperament and the needs of the client. With more than 40 years of experience, it’s no small wonder that Knoxville is the perfect battle buddy for Stefan.
Since 1975, Canine Companions has placed more than 5,800 assistance dogs, including over 265 expertly trained dogs with veterans through the Veterans Initiative™. Earlier this year, Canine Companions expanded services to veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through a new pilot program at the Santa Rosa, CA headquarters. Assistance dogs in the pilot are trained to mitigate the invisible wounds of war by creating a buffer between the veteran and other individuals, and even provide nightmare interruption.
“I definitely know people going through similar trails as I did; who are still in the middle of those trails. What I would say to them is, ‘There is a future down the road and going through your struggles will make you a better and stronger person,'” says Stefan.
Canine Companions for Independence provides highly trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships.Learn More
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