Life has changed dramatically since Plymouth resident Bella Andrade received an assistance dog from Can Do Canines last fall. After the 15-year-old graduated from training with her service dog, bringing Blaine home meant more freedom in mobility.
“I’ve been able to be more independent,” says Bella, who lives with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II. “I’ve been able to do things I haven’t been able to do, like open drawers and be alone.” Her mom Melissa adds, “She can go around the neighborhood and take a walk herself.”
Can Do Canines, a nonprofit with offices in New Hope and Wisconsin, provides assistance dogs free of charge for individuals living with disabilities. The dogs are raised by volunteers until it’s time to start training. This is the point when Andrade first met her dog and began a nearly five month long process before taking her home.
The dogs come from a breeder, rescue organizations or the humane society. As they grow older, their traits indicate what type of service dog they’ll be trained to become: hearing, mobility, seizure, diabetes or autism assistant. The dogs are all technically service dogs and are certified with clients so they’ll have learned everything about each other before graduating from training.
Once Bella was paired up with Blaine to help her with mobility, they were able to go through day-to-day situations in and outside of the home. The skills used in training now help Bella in daily life.
The due diligence from Can Do Canines called for three different references and a home visit, proving an emotionally validating experience. “I was leaving middle school the next month, and the reference my special education teacher wrote was really emotional,” says Bella.
The process, while lengthy, went more quickly than the family expected. They’ve seen consistent results from Blaine. “They’ve been a very professional and well-organized organization. They take this job very seriously and are very strict with their pups,” Melissa says.
“It was so easy to work with Blaine,” says Bella. Blaine was the first in her litter to graduate.
“We don’t start training dogs for a specific program until later in life,” says Sarah Lennander, Can Do Canines marketing and communications coordinator. “We don’t know until they’re older what they’ll be good at and what they’re drawn to.”
Now in its 29th year of operation, Lennander estimates they’ve graduated more than 600 teams. “This year we have over 50, we’ve been steadily increasing,” she says. The organization is the largest provider of service dogs in Minnesota.
Can Do Canine’s work not only makes a lasting impact in the lives of clients, but forms a lasting bond between clients and their dogs. All at no cost to the clients. With an average cost of $25,000 to raise and train each dog, fundraising is key to ensuring that Can Do Canine’s work can reach as far as it can.
The organization just held its annual “The Fetching Ball” fundraiser in January, but opportunities to get involved run the course of the year.
Dog lovers can apply to be a puppy raiser or short-term foster dog parent, and go through home interviews before hosting a dog. “We make sure the dogs are going into a safe environment,” says Lennander. “We’re really careful about it.” Donations are always accepted on their website, where you can also find fundraising events to attend and volunteer opportunities.