MILWAUKEE — Canine Companions is working to “Help Our Heroes Better” with an initiative just for veterans. It’s a free service that has helped hundreds of people like Kristen Cassarini, a United States Army veteran.
Cassarini said the non-profit organization changed her life.
“I was struggling a little bit with independence,” said Cassarini. “Things like balance and picking things up. I was wondering if I could benefit from a service dog and how it could possibly impact my life.”
Cassarini said it was a tough realization after leaving the military due to an injury. After doing a little research of her own, she found Canine Companions and now has a strong bond with her very own service dog, Niner.
“Canine Companions is the oldest and largest provider of fully trained assistance dogs,” said Catherine Rupp, Volunteer Puppy Raiser with Canine Companions. “We provide the dogs to people with disabilities free of charge.”
Cassarini said she’s thankful to have found the service because dogs like Niner can be valued as high as $50,000. She said Niner was fully trained with about 45 commands when they were matched in 2021.
“He can do things like opening the refrigerator, and carrying a bag, picking up a credit card up off the floor that I might drop,” said Cassarini.
While hundreds of dogs are improving lives across the country, Rupp said there are still many out there ready and waiting to help.
“The process starts online,” said Rupp. “People can go to canine.org and start the application process there with the professional staff.”
Rupp said whether you train, donate or end up finding the perfect service dog, every path with Canine Companions leads to making a difference.
“When you see the kinds of people that they help in such a profound and personal way how could we not give up the dog,” said Rupp.
“He’s a great part of my team,” said Cassarini. “We make a great team I like to think.”