Evan Sorenson, 15, could have a new lease on life, thanks to Brittany, his "Canine Companion."
Injuries suffered in a fall early this year left Sorenson confined to a wheelchair and quadriplegic. But a new program designed to train dogs to help the physically challenged could be the answer Sorenson and others need to become more self-sufficient.Brittany, a Labrador retriever, is the first of 16 dogs to be trained for therapy. She can pull Sorenson's wheelchair up the ramp into his family's van, turn lights off and on, pick up things Sorenson may drop and perform other tasks.
The Canine Companion concept is the dream child of Bob Reid, who suffered from physical disabilities. An article on how Reid overcame his disabilities caught the attention of Norman Leifer, a clinical social worker at the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center Rehabilitation Center.
Leifer said it's a known fact that pets have a healing quality, and pets have been used in nursing homes for some time. Leifer believed Reid's dogs could also help individual patients.
"I got hold of Bob and he came in with his dog," Leifer said. "Here in rehab we see a lot of people with disabilities. The dog made a big difference."
Leifer said they kicked around a few ideas at the hospital, and the end result was a $5,500 joint grant from the Henry and Leslie Eskuche Foundation, IHC foundation and the Central Utah Health Care Foundation.
The program not only rescues humans from some difficult moments, it is also sparing the lives of dogs. Leifer said the dogs to be trained are all taken from the local animal shelter.
"Eight dogs will be trained for use in facilities like the rehabilitation center and in nursing homes," Leifer said. "The other eight will be trained specifically for individuals' use."
Another dog, Waldo, is currently in training for a local facility. Reid not only trains the dogs but also works with them and their new owners in their own homes.
"After a devastating illness, friends don't always stay around, but dogs do," Leifer said.