Colette rarely left the house. Wheelchair-bound from multiple sclerosis, it was simply too much to navigate the world by herself except for absolute necessities.
“I could go for days without leaving the apartment complex,” she said. “Every little thing, even picking something up off the floor, took up more energy than I had.”
Then Cate came into her life. The yellow Labrador is specially trained to help her. She takes care of many of her need, including picking up the remote control, opening doors and calling the elevator.
“She loves to push buttons, like the ones at crosswalks or for the elevator,” Emanuel beamed, “she’s a bit of a show off about it.”
Since February, they have been inseparable.
“I don’t think I’ve stayed home a single day since I got her,” she said.
The life-changing Labrador service dog came free of charge from Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). These dogs cost an average of $50,000 to raise and train. Most disabled people cannot afford this. The nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence brings volunteer trainers together to raise the dogs, which are then given to those in need at no cost.
“All of our funding comes from individual donors, foundations and corporations,” said Angie Schacht, development associate for CCI. “This allows us to provide the dog free of charge to the recipient.”
Since 1975, the Santa-Rosa-based nonprofit has placed more than 4,500 service dogs with disabled people. More than 1,000 volunteers across the United States breed Labrador and golden retrievers for the program, and commit to spending the first 18 months of the puppy’s life providing the intensive training needed for service dogs.
“They begin training and socializing the puppies when they are just two months old, and continue working with them until the puppies are about 18 months old,” Schacht said. “At that point, they return the dogs to Canine Companions for six to nine months of professional training.”
Connecting the right dog with the right person is an inexact science. For two weeks, Emanuel traveled to Santa Rosa to work with different dogs. Then she found Labrador, Cate, her perfect match.
“It’s kind of like speed dating,” Emanuel laughed.
Since graduating program on Valentine’s Day, Cate has slipped effortlessly into Emanuel’s daily life.
“When people see that you’re in a wheelchair, that’s pretty much all they see, unless you have a dog,” Emanuel said. “All the kids want to meet my dog. I have her shake their hand.”
“The biggest thing about this dog is that she got me back out into the world,” Emanuel said. “Every little thing she does for me gives me extra energy for life.”