HERMITAGE Volunteers offer to launch Canine Companions chapter

The chapter will involve people on both sides of the Pennsylvania-Ohio border.
HERMITAGE, Pa. -- Canine Companions for Independence is getting a local chapter.
Nearly 20 volunteers met Monday at Whispering Oaks Retirement Community to offer their services to a Penn-Ohio chapter.
It would be the only active chapter in this region, said Cheryl Lesko, North Central Regional Director of Canine Companion. There was one in Pittsburgh, but it is no longer active. The closest one is at the North Central Regional offices in Delaware, Ohio, just north of Columbus, she said.
About the program: Canine Companions, based in California, provides dogs to assist people with disabilities other than blindness. It has four classifications for its trained golden and Labrador retrievers:
UService dogs perform tasks for people who use wheelchairs or have other serious mobility problems.
UHearing dogs alert people who are deaf or partially deaf to sounds such as a doorbell or fire alarm.
USkilled companion dogs for children with disabilities who need third-party supervision.
UFacility dogs work with professional caregivers in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes and other programs.
There's a common misconception that the agency is a dog organization, said Lesko, who came to Hermitage to help the new chapter organize.
"We're a people organization. We use dogs as a tool to help people," she said.
Sees a need: "There's a real need in this community," said Tom Flynn, owner of Hillcrest Memorial Park and a facilitator for Derek, a golden retriever facility dog trained by Canine Companions.
Derek is assigned to the John Flynn Funeral Home to assist in bereavement counseling but spends a fair amount of his time visiting schools, nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities in the area, Flynn said.
There are disabled people, health care-facilities and other institutions that can use the service, he said, noting two Shenango Valley nursing homes have expressed an interest in getting facility dogs.
Community awareness: Public education is a key to making a local chapter successful, he said. Lesko agreed, noting that community awareness is a big part of a chapter's job.
Recruiting puppy raisers for the program and recipients for the dogs is a second task, and raising money to support the program is the third, she said.
Chapters don't have their own training facilities. That job is handled by Canine Companions' five training centers across the country, she said.
Flynn said two local people have volunteered to help run a local puppy-raising program, and Dr. Robert Stein, a local ophthalmologist who is familiar with the Canine Companions program and has one of the dogs that wasn't able to complete the training program, has offered to be the local chapter's first president.

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