Touring Canine Partners for Life

July 1st, 2014 by Carrie, the Just Mildly Medicated gal

My tour of Canine Partners for Life

Canine Partners 4 Life


I have been on a wait list for a service dog trained at Canine Partners for Life for over two years. My wait has been longer than the average person as I am looking for a service dog that can both perform basic mobility tasks and also alert to my abnormal blood pressure and heart rate fluctuations. To add to the details in alerting we also need to have a service dog that is a poodle or low to non-shedding poodle mix, one of my children has an allergy to pet dander.


While on the wait list fora service dog, I have had the pleasure of making connections with other people who suffer from Dysautonomia that are partnered with service dogs. I’ve also met recipients for a wide range of disabilities that have received a service dog from Canine Partners for Life (CPL). I assumed that would have normalized the idea of a service dog and better prepared me for my visit to CPL. I am pleased to say my visit left me with a wide range of emotions and none of them were in the realm of normal.


We have had many family conversations over the last two years about the differences between a service dog and a pet, but even I was a bit excited when entering and seeing several service dogs in various states of relaxation near their partners’ feet. I have to say that CPL was amazing to my family; here we come in with three children under 11, all of us logically knowing what we are seeing but internally wanting coo over the view. They kept things moving, explaining things to the kids as we went, and answered all of our questions.


One of the first things we talked about was positioning and pacing, two things I never really considered before my visit. They had me walk with two dogs to see what my natural pace was and if I preferred the service dog side by side or ahead of me. Turns out I am a bit on the slow side, no real surprise there. I did originally say I would prefer side by side until I actually walked; as it turns out a slight lead was much more natural for me.


Here I am walking with Bandit

Walking with Bandit       Walking with Bandit

and this guy is Jasper

walking with Jasper


After some walking, which wore me out, we went in to watch an hour of Team Training. Team Training is the three-week course you participate in after you are matched and before you become an official team and head home. The CPL staff was kind enough to bring in a pup still in training an allowed to receive lots of loving from my kids while I sat with my practice dog for the morning, Jasper the black lab.


It was wonderful to be given a preview of Team Training and hearing how the recipients were faring after the first few days of working with their new service dogs. Some common concerns were bonding and worrying they would miss an alert thinking the dog was looking for attention. Ironically, while I was just on the outside of this circle of new recipients and their service dogs talking about concerns with alerting, Jasper went from relaxing at my feet to full attention and put his head in my lap. I patted him on the head and told him “down”; he did, but was right back up with his head in my lap. I must admit I was thinking, “Jasper, dude, you’re making me look bad.”


Jess, one of the trainers, came and told me that they actually knew Jasper had a tendency to alert. Wow, had I just been alerted? I took my cell phone out because I have a heart rate monitor app on it and tried to refocus on Team Training now that Jasper was back to lounging at my feet. Jess was in his sight now and I could tell he was focused on where she was in the room so I really didn’t think he was paying much mind to me.


Boy oh boy, was I surprised when Jasper and the top half of all of is black labness was across my lap! I started the hr monitor knowing I’d be higher than normal mostly due to a blanket of lab on me with gorgeous brown eyes making no qualms about looking me right in the eyes. My hr was in the upper 90’s, a common rate for me, so I chalked Jasper’s lap dive as he was clearly trying to make me look bad. Then all of a sudden the numbers started climbing. Within two minutes I was up to 140. I asked Jasper to sit and I reclined my wheelchair back. Mind you, Jasper was still looking straight at me, he nudged his head in my lap and then my 140 heart rate took a bit of a dive back in to the 90’s. At that point Jasper lay back down and I let the tears fall.


I realized that up until that moment I hadn’t truly believed my unpredictable heart rate could be alerted to. I had expressed this concern before to the CPL staff, to which they knowingly reassured me that some service dogs can alert to Autonomic instabilities. I even know people with service dogs that alert to these same issues, they have even written guest posts on this blog, but I had never until that moment believed it for me.


Jasper isn’t done with training, and sadly, he wouldn’t work for my family because of my sons’ allergies, but I do believe he will make someone a great partner. As for me, my service dog is out there. Maybe he or she is living with a puppy raiser right now, maybe he or she hasn’t even been born yet, but I have a new faith that I will have a partner just for me.


Canine Partners for life charges on a sliding scale. The cost for me when I am matched will be $3,000.oo plus the cost of traveling from Missouri to Pennsylvania and staying for three weeks. We are estimating it being around $5,000.00 for the trip in total. We are hopeful to raise at least the cost of the service dog and in the hopes of raising the cost for the trip in whole. We would be thrilled to raise more than my expenses and have a donation to Canine Partners for life.


If you would like to donate towards my service dog fund I have set up a You Care account to support my goals. The donation comes to me personally, and I will give updates here on Just Mildly Medicated and share links on the You Care site as we move forward.



Want to know more about Canine Partners for Life? Clink this link CPL.

Did you know Diane Sawyer arranged for my service dog? Check it out here.

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5 Responses

  1. Sarah Cate Miller says:

    Hello my name is Sarah Cate and I have been searching for a cardiac alert dog for about a month to help with my NeuroCardiogenic Syncope and POTS. I was amazed and touched by your story, Jasper is a guardian angel. Would you happen to know if Jasper is still available at CPL?

  2. Lori says:

    You might want to widen your search criteria beyond poodles and poodle mixes. As a child I was severely allergic to animals and my parents ended up getting a giant schnauzer on the advice of a veterinarian. I had no allergy issues with her and she was a wonder. She was a purebred show dog who was amazing in the show ring. She achieved grand champion status while still being my guardian. I was trained as a handler, but most of the other breeds set my allergies off. I have a pitbull-terrier mix now. She’s a wire hair and doesn’t bother my allergies. She’s very sensitive to my health issues and would have been an amazing service dog if the service dog folks had gotten her as a puppy. Unfortunately, we adopted her at 9 months and she exhibits traits of previous abuse (polite wording). Check with vets and allergists for possible compatible breeds. Labs are popular for service dogs because of their intelligence and temperament. Other breeds generally need more work, Schnauzers are intelligent and headstrong, terriers are energetic and need major play time. I have a friend with a border collie seizure companion, privately trained. Her brother lives close and takes Beau out for long runs and frisbee catch. Tom’s got allergies, but his allergist approves of the time he spends with Beau as long as he keeps up his medical regime. I think it’s a perfect solution, she has Beau, her brother sees her daily, Beau adores Tom, and Tom gets exercise he needs.

    • Lori,
      I am limited to the dogs CP4L uses in their program but I am happy to say that they now have two giant schnauzers in the program. One of the ladies that works at CP4L has a soft coated collie. So while they mainly graduated labs, occasionally poodles, and rarely a poodle mix they are open to other breeds.
      I am so glad you had such a great experience with your schnauzer and now your terrier mix. Dogs really do bless our lives.

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