Wheat Ridge resident Chris Mangold’s first service dog saved her life when she fell into a coma.
“That dog was eventually retired but I missed it so much because the dog is like a life partner,” said the former nurse, who is legally blind …
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“That dog was eventually retired but I missed it so much because the dog is like a life partner,” said the former nurse, who is legally blind and in a wheelchair.
So now she has Tula.
“We are still training, but ... she already helps me get around,” Mangold said. “She fetches things for me and sleeps with me. She is a cuddler, and I like that.”
Mangold and Tula were among the graduates at the June 6 Freedom Service Dogs graduation, highlighted by emotional words from individuals, a few barks and an abundance of wagging tails. The celebration included therapy dogs, veterans and traditional clients like Mangold.
“My dog changed my life” and “my dog enabled me to make adjustments so I can live a normal life again” were common refrains as owners and their furry friends each received diplomas.
Freedom Service Dogs at 2000 W. Union Ave. in Englewood is a nonprofit organization that rescues dogs from shelters and trains them to provide specialized services to people with disabilities. Clients receive their dogs for free even though training for each service dog takes about a year and costs about $25,000.
Stacey Candella, the organization’s marketing and events coordinator, said when dogs are rescued the process begins with basic training and testing to see if the animal is a candidate to be a service dog. Dogs that don’t qualify to function as service animals may enter a therapy dog program or be placed in a good home.
Early in the process each dog in training is matched with a client. That makes it possible to train the dog to perform specific, and sometimes specialized, services for that person. The client attends training sessions to develop a relationship with the new best friend and to learn how to direct the dog to perform needed services.
“Not every dog that enters training can be a service dog,” Candella said. “But, working with the University of Denver, we have students who team up with animals in the therapy dog program. So instead of just putting all the dogs that can’t be a service dog up for adoption, we can put many of those dogs through additional training to become professional therapy dogs, like Madrid.”
Madrid and her new partner Cheryl Stinson were among four therapy teams to receive diplomas.
“My new four-legged friend Madrid is the new love of my life,” Stinson said after graduation. “I have always had a great love for dogs. I am in professional pediatric speech and a language therapist, so putting us together as a therapy team was a natural fit.”
Mangold, who helps other people with disabilities as an independent living advocate for the state, also considers Tula a lifeline to the world.
“Tula is a conduit as I connect with people,” she said. “She has no idea of how many lives she has already affected and how many lives she will impact in the future.”
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