Melanie Knecht has been in a wheelchair most of her life. She always wanted a service dog. Thanks to Baylor Scott & White and Canine Companions for Independence, she’s got one. The organizations’ collaboration is believed to be the first in the U.S. between an assistance dog organization and a health care system. Assistance dogs help children and adults with physical and mental disabilities.
Melanie was matched with Hillary V, named for fifth dog in the program with that name. The two were one of four teams in the first local graduating class. Melanie is a music therapist and has trained Hillary to pick up her instruments. Her dog is a big hit with her clients, which include children with autism and developmental problems and the elderly with Alzheimer’s disease or hospice care. Although Hillary’s first job is to serve Melanie, she has evolved into a sort of a work colleague.
“Hillary has become such an asset to me as a therapist,” Knecht said. “When I have a client with anxiety or depression issues, she is right there ready to help. Hillary knew one girl needed support and love. She sat with her the entire therapy session. She’s very intuitive, and is another dimension of awesome when she’s working with me. I keep finding more things to do with her.”
The Canine Companions for Independence at Baylor Scott & White Health – Kinkeade Campus in Irving trains three types of assistance dogs:
- Service dogs assist adults with physical disabilities by performing daily tasks.
- Skilled companions enhance independence for children and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities.
- Facility dogs are expertly trained dogs who partner with a facilitator working in a health care, visitation or education setting.
During six to nine months of training with Canine Companions, the dogs are trained in more than 40 commands including turning the light switch on and off, opening doors, pulling wheelchairs and picking up items. Once they are ready for placement, their future human companions spend two weeks learning how to work with the dogs. The average cost to breed, raise and train one assistance dog is $50,000. Those willing to support this worthy endeavor should contact the Baylor Health Care System Foundation.
“I’m so lucky and honored to be part of such an amazing program. Hillary’s changed my life,” Melanie said. “She is an awesome icebreaker socially. I’ve made so many friends because of her. You are automatically happy when you see her. I can never be in a bad mood with Hillary around.”
Find out how you can support Canines Companions for Independence by visiting the national website.