Shown is Alan Peters, founder of Can Do Canines, holding future assistance dog Midas. Can Do Canines provides mobility assist, hearing assist, diabetes assist, seizure response and autism assist dogs to people in need, free of charge. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED
Can Do Canines was founded by Alan Peters in 1987. “It came out of my own personal experience of having my dog basically save me during a difficult time in my life,” said Peters. “I didn’t have a lot of support from friends or family, and I’d never had that kind of relationship with a dog before.”
Based in New Hope, Minn., the non profit organization is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities by creating partnerships with specially trained dogs.
Can Do has 14 full time employees, six part-time employees and 20 field trainers. They have 10 board members and over 200 volunteers.
When the company first started, they focused on hearing dogs — dogs that alert the deaf by leading them to the source of the sound. “When I did some research, I learned that there were 60,000 people in Minnesota that could benefit from a hearing dog.”
Since then, they have branched out to include not only hearing assist but also mobility assist, diabetes assist, seizure response and autism assist dogs. Peters says he envisions a future in which every person who needs and wants an assistance dog can have one.
He realized that providing highly-trained assistance dogs is a service that is expensive, to say the least. It costs $25,000 to raise and train the dogs. Can Do Canines gets funding through individual donations, the Minnesota Lions Clubs and various other foundations. They also hold several fundraisers throughout the year. That is what enables them to give the dogs to people in need, free of charge.
Fetching amazing things
So what can these dogs do? The dogs are able to respond to literally hundreds of commands. Each type of assist dog has certain specialties. For instance, diabetes assist dogs are trained to detect low blood sugar levels by sensing a change in their human partner’s breath. The dog then alerts the person to the change. The dog can also be trained to retrieve juice or a snack for them.
“Last year we trained a dog for a woman who has type I diabetes with hypoglycemia unawareness, which means that she can’t tell when her blood sugar drops low,” said Peters. “For her, it happens suddenly and she can’t tell when it will happen.”
Peters said in the year before she received a dog, she had 173 ambulance calls to her home.
“After getting the dog, she didn’t even have one ambulance call the next year. It has made a huge impact —not only has it saved her money but it has saved her life.”
The hearing assist dogs alert a person who is deaf or hard of hearing by making physical contact with them and then leading them to the source of the sound.
The mobility assist dogs are trained to carry objects, pull wheelchairs, open doors, and help pay for items at the store.
The seizure response dogs respond to a person having a seizure by licking their face, retrieving an emergency phone and alerting family members.
The autism assist dogs keep children with autism safe in public settings and help them experience the world more fully by offering comfort and assurance. They serve as a social bridge between the family and the public.
The demand for autism assist dogs keeps rising, said Peters. “These dogs do so much for the children that struggle with autism,” he said. Autism dogs are tethered to the child and provide a calming effect. For children who struggle with socializing, an autism assist dog is one very effective way for them to develop the ability to talk to others. “We’ve seen children open up to others in a way they never have before,” he said.
From pet to
The training can last a year and a half to two years, and Can Do trains several breeds. Many of the dogs are selected from local animal shelters. “More than 33 percent of our graduate assistance dogs came from local shelters,” said Peters. Can Do trainers work with the dogs, but they are also trained in two Minnesota correctional facilities.
Can Do partners with the Minnesota Federal Correctional Institution in Waseca and the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Faribault. Inmates at Waseca, a women’s prison, help to raise the puppies. In Faribault, adult dogs receive some finishing training. “They work with dogs that need more skills or need to mature,” he said. “They are training these dogs with the skills they will need later on.”
The inmates that have the privilege of working with the dogs recognize it’s something special. Peters said during one of his prison visits, he took a poodle with him and had a prisoner ask if he could pet the dog.
After petting the poodle, the inmate told Peters, “I haven’t touched a dog for 30 years.”
The prisoners working with the dogs are selected for their good behavior. “If they screw up, they immediately lose the privilege to train the dogs.”
Can Do has 10 puppies that are being raised in the prison in Waseca. The puppies go in at 12 weeks of age and are trained to have good behavior and manners. “They go in and out of prison with the prison guards for socialization,” he explained. “On weekends, the dogs have what we call a furlough. The dogs from this women’s prison are able to go out and interact with children and men, and go out to public places so that they can get used to those environments.”
The dogs affect the prison population in a positive way as well. “The first prison we worked with reported that after our dogs came in, they went for 7 months without anybody getting disciplined, which was a record. The guards couldn’t believe the change in attitude.”
Canines changing lives
Can Do Canines has placed dogs in Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois. Last year, Can Do graduated 36 teams — dogs who graduated with a human partner. “We do have a waiting list for the dogs,” he said. “And we see the need that South Dakota and our surrounding states have. There’s a real need for these dogs.”
Peters said there are countless examples of how the dogs from Can Do Canines change lives. “Every time it’s a different kind of impact, and yet it happens over and over again,” he says. “Every time we place a dog, people’s eyes sparkle and their life seems to improve in so many different ways. We concentrate on training the dogs to be well behaved and to do all these specific tasks, but it’s the dogs themselves that provide all the magic. Lifting their spirits, partnering with the person and improve their outlook on life.”
For more information, visit can-do-canines.org or call them at 763-331-3000 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For the complete article see the 01-06-2013 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 01-06-2013 paper.