By: Alexia Helmer
Anyone who has ever had a dog as a pet has most likely found truth in the saying, “Dog is man’s best friend.” The fact that the personalities of dogs and humans are almost always on an even keel makes it possible to train many different breeds to aid those who have special needs that need met in a unique way. It was Rebekah Webster’s need for that kind of companionship that led her parents, Marilyn and Andy Webster, to look into the Canine Companions program. “When you have something like autism and sometimes you act differently … kids might avoid you, but when you have a dog they don’t,” Marilyn Webster said. “When you have a dog they approach and they think you’re cool, and they want to know more about your dog. So it’s really given her some social currency.”
Marilyn Webster heard about Canine Companions when she was introduced to Judy Williams by a mutual acquaintance. Williams, who trains dogs for Canine Companions and holds a “Dog Training 101” class at Pet Supplies Plus, believes in the program’s mission. “For nearly ten years, I have helped raise puppies as a volunteer for Canine Companions for Independence. While taking one of the puppies-in-training to work with me at Illinois School for the Deaf, a fellow teacher, who is a friend of Marilyn’s, saw how beneficial the dogs are and introduced Marilyn to me and to Canine Companions,” Williams shared with me.
After two weeks at the Ohio chapter of Canine Companions, the Websters returned home with Romey, a beautiful, black lab retriever who knows over 40 commands. “Since we’ve gotten Romey, we’ve seen Rebekah become a calmer person … he has made it possible for Rebekah to handle so many more public situations.” Romey, who was deemed as one of the most interactive dogs by the trainers at Canine Companions, has encouraged Rebekah Webster to interact more and he’s helped make it possible for her to handle situations that used to make her uneasy, like the dentist and the hairdresser. Just as Romey has helped Webster hone her public and social skills, he has also helped her develop her language and speaking skills since she is in charge of giving him commands. “He is a motivator for her to improve her language, to speak at a correct volume and add to her vocabulary,” Marilyn Webster explained.
Now, two years after Rebekah Webster and Romey first met, they’ve created an unbreakable bond and have become the best of friends. From playing the shepherd and sheep in their church’s Christmas pageant, to taking Romey to show off his mastery of commands in front of her classmates, to cuddling and walks, Rebekah Webster and Romey do almost everything together.
“We’re very grateful to Canine Companions,” Marilyn Webster added. “They give the dogs away free of charge, they gave us great training so we can keep him in service dog condition, and (Romey) has really improved Rebekah’s quality of life.”
For more information on Canine Companions, visit www.CCI.org.