“Good girl Shadow, good girl, shake, yes, very good girl,” says Kayla Branscum to Shadow, an eight-month-old Labrador Retriever, in her sweet, positive voice.
Branscum says Shadow is the third puppy she’s raising for a very special purpose, “Two of my other dogs have graduated and are now living with people with special needs making a huge difference in their lives,”
They’re part of the non profit Canine Companions for Independence. Puppy raisers receive the puppy when they’re eight weeks old.
“We love on it, we care for it, we provide a safe environment for it, we do attend training classes about twice a month and we socialize that dog for the first 18 months of its life,” says Branscum.
Then the dog leaves their puppy raiser and goes to more advanced training program then get placed in a home like her last dog Aspen, whose companion was born with one limb.
“And so he drops a lot of things, and Aspen is able to pick up those things, can also open drawers , closes both can even get things out of the refrigerator,” says Branscum
She says the other special thing these dogs do is help people connect with those they help, “It’s often that we hear that someone who’s in a wheelchair perhaps say they kind of become invisible, so a beautiful black lab who is friendly and gentle and loving is a great bridge.”
Their training standards are so stringent, only about 40 percent of the dogs will actually become companions.
But Branscum says that’s not a bad thing, “She may not be a working dog she just may be the most wonderful pet on the block and if that happens that would be okay too,”
The cost to breed and train these dogs is about $50,000, she says. But the cost to get one, “That is the most endearing part of our organization all of our dogs go into service at no charge to the recipient.”
She says since the day Shadow was placed under her care, she’s had one prayer for her future, “That God will place her exactly where she needs to be.”
“I love her with my whole heart,” she says adding that the hardest thing about being a puppy raiser is saying goodbye, “when you love big, it hurts big but you don’t lose anything, you just send your love along.”
The program relies on a good base of volunteers and donations, if you want to help log on to their website Canine Companions for Independence . You can also call (760) 901-4300.