Service dogs help owners be independent

Service dogs have changed the lives of many people with disabilities.

February 7, 2013 10:28:32 AM PST
Service dogs have changed the lives of many people with disabilities.

Six years ago, Rochelle Byrd, a 22-year-old who has cerebral palsy, got "Deon," her first service dog.

"He's definitely made me more independent, you know helps me get around... I'm not worried about dropping something and not being able to pick it up. He's motivated me to do more physical therapy," Byrd said.

She says they are now an inseparable team. Deon even sleeps in bed with her at night. He also accompanies Byrd to the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association, where she works with people with developmental disabilities.

The Canine Companions for Independence have specially bred dogs like Deon for service. As puppies, they are raised by volunteers.

Fran Vlasses has raised 13 puppies for the organization.

"I take the dogs when they are two months old and keep them until they are about 18 months old. I basically a, responsible for socializing them, I teach them about 30 commands. They come to work with me so they they have to learn how to be professional in a work environment," said Vlasses.

She is now training "Miso," who is seven months old.

"I get them ready so that they can go to advance training and really become more skilled at a higher level so they can really help an individual. He's the biggest puppy we've had, he 's very relaxed," said Vlasses.

As for Byrd, she said she knew Deon was the dog for her at first sight.

"I worked with four different dogs that day and he was the last one I worked with and I could just tell by looking at him, he was wagging his tail at me. He really wanted to work for me, you could tell that he was happy to do it," Byrd said.