The concept of “love at first sight” is a cliché often reserved for fairy tales, not real life. But for Brea, a young girl with cerebral palsy, and Gregg, a hard-working yellow Labrador, nothing could be truer. Brea’s father, Cedar, still recalls the first time they set eyes on Gregg.
“We went to meet a couple of dogs and Gregg immediately began responding to Brea’s communication device giving commands,” he recalls. “He was completely engaged with her and she with him.”
Credit Can Do Canines for bringing them together. The New Hope, Minn.-based nonprofit pairs people with disabilities, including hearing loss, mobility needs, diabetes, seizure disorders and autism, with specially trained dogs. To date, the organization has placed more than 700 fully trained assistance dogs into the community.
The impact can be profound. Though Brea and Gregg have only been together a few months, Brea’s family see a difference in the way their daughter interacts with the world. “As their relationship grows, we expect Gregg will play an even bigger role in helping her be more self-sufficient,” Cedar says. Already, the eager dog picks up things Brea drops, opens and closes doors, activates handicap buttons, puts clothes in the hamper and more. But equally important, Cedar says, is the social component.
“A dog helps remove the stigma around the person it’s helping,” he explains. “People are more willing to talk to you when you have a dog.”
Can Do Canines Founder Al Peters concurs, adding that the program’s effects are far-reaching. “Our dogs fetch amazing things. They provide the gifts of freedom, independence, safety, security and peace of mind to our clients and their families,” he emphasizes. “The dogs cause such a ripple effect because we see clients empowered to go out and pay it forward in the world on their own. The benefits truly are boundless.”