Service Dog Gives the Gift of Companionship

Like the rest of us, Andres Jimenez is looking forward to Christmas, but his best gift arrived months ago. Thanks to Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that provides service dogs free to adults, veterans, and children with disabilities, Andres has a new furry helper, Dewey.

After Andres’ brother, who has muscular dystrophy, received a dog from Canine Companions, Andres was blown away by how smart and well-behaved the canine helper was. Andres, who also has muscular dystrophy, applied for his own service dog and traveled to San Diego to train with a Labrador named Dennie in 2010. “It’s amazing how helpful they are, how excited they are every day to do any task you ask them to—caring, loving, just eager and excited,” Andres says.

Being in a power chair makes it hard for Andres to open doors and retrieve things, but Dennie, who has since passed the service torch to Dewey, has always been right there beside him, tail wagging, ready to help. After Dennie retired last year, Andres and his second service dog, Dewey, graduated from training in August.

The canines are two of 6,632 dogs that have been placed by Canine Companions since the organization was founded in 1975, with 2,558 active service dogs nationwide. Each service dog is has a $50,000 cost, but thanks to generous donors, Canine Companions is able to give them away for free. “They provide companionship that just doesn’t compare to any other kind of relationship,” says Kate Incremona, a Canine Companions trainer. “Not only that, they help provide independence.”

Dewey and Andres connected right away, she adds,  and looked like a team on their first day of training. She believes in Dewey as a supportive best friend that’s always going to be there for Andres. 

That’s exactly what he’s been for the last four months but he’s also become a member of the family, alongside Dennie and Chase, Andres’ brother’s service dog. Having two service dogs and a retired one has been interesting, as Dennie will sometimes forget he’s retired and try to help Andres with Dewey. (Andres makes sure to praise them both.)

He says the work Canine Companions puts into making sure each person is paired with the right service dog is a blessing. “It’s amazing how worry-free the process is,” he says. “They give everything they can into these amazing dogs. It’s a huge gift.”

That gift is especially significant this year, as Andres has faced isolation from having to social distance more than other people due to his health condition. “It’s great to have a friend and a family member to be by your side.”

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