Tim Daynes really needed a friend after a diving accident left him a quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair.

He found one in Yaz, a big golden retriever/golden Labrador who has been trained to help people with disabilities through the Canine Companions for Independence program.Yaz has been with Daynes for five years now, and the dog has offered an enormous amount of independence to a young man who has limited use of his arms and can breathe on his own but can't walk or use his hands.

The dog responds to 65 commands ranging from giving a wallet to a cashier to pulling the wheelchair to getting food out of the refrigerator. "Sometimes he eats the food before he brings it to me," Daynes said.

Yaz also is a good ice-breaker in social situations when people feel awkward about approaching someone in a wheelchair.

"(After Yaz arrived), for the first time in my life, women started to notice me. But after a while, I realized it was because of my dog," Daynes joked.

The women-noticing-him bit has cooled now that Daynes and his fiancee, Karen Workman, have set a Valentine's Day wedding date.

Daynes described the benefits of having Yaz - and Yaz demonstrated some of his skills - for an eager audience Thursday during a luncheon sponsored by the Fieldstone Foundation, a charitable arm of Fieldstone Homes.

The idea was to drum up support in Utah for Canine Companions, which is relatively new to this state.

Currently, Utah has five "teams" of disabled human owners and companion dogs and three families working as "puppy trainers." Canine Companions advocates would like to see those numbers climb.

Some people with disabilities are hesitant about trying to get a canine companion because they don't know if they can handle a dog, Daynes said.

"You have to love these dogs," Daynes said. "Yaz isn't the answer to everything. Sometimes he's in the way, but he's my friend."

Canine Companions is a nonprofit national program that takes specially bred puppies to volunteer foster homes for two years to get obedience training and socialization. The animals also receive advanced training.

After that, the dogs and their human companions are paired and they both take part in a two-week "boot camp" to adjust to one another, teach the person to give commands and the dog to respond to that individual.

The program is catching on nationally, and more people are getting involved, but there's always a need for more volunteers. Judith Pierson, Canine Companions director for the southwest region, said that in 1992, a disabled person probably would be on a waiting list for four years to get a dog. Applicants this year can expect to get a canine companion sometime next year.

She cautioned that although dogs can do a lot, including helping hearing-impaired people and those with a variety of disabilities, they can't do everything. Some people have asked for dogs that can assemble wheelchairs or tend children, which isn't realistic.

It costs $10,000 to properly train each human/dog team. There is no charge to the person receiving the dog, and when that dog retires, a replacement dog is found.

Pierson particularly praised the "very selfless" individuals who serve as puppy trainers. They lovingly raise and train a dog, only to give it to someone else and start the process all over again with a new puppy.

Daynes credited his family, particularly his mother, Susan, and all the medical staff at the University of Utah for helping in his recovery. But Yaz added a special dimension.

"Before my accident, I didn't know what a true friend was. I took too much for granted in my life and I learned the hard way," he said.

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Additional Information

Call for more information about Canine Companions

Susan Daynes is heading the newly organized Utah "Champions Program" of Canine Companions for Independence. It is designed to heighten awareness of the nonprofit organization and recruit volunteers. The first meeting will be Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 6:30 p.m. at Crossroads Plaza. For more information, call her at 583-1625.

Also, Crossroads Plaza has chosen Canine Companions for Independence as its charitable organization for 1998, according to marketing director Tami Ivy. The shopping center will feature a number of CCI awareness efforts throughout the year.