The Conley sisters, M’kaela, 9; Alyza, 7; and Elliana, 3; will sometimes play pirates in the backyard of their Fort Collins home. Their dog Nyqo will play the role of the guardian of the ship — …
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The Conley sisters, M’kaela, 9; Alyza, 7; and Elliana, 3; will sometimes play pirates in the backyard of their Fort Collins home. Their dog Nyqo will play the role of the guardian of the ship — the one who keeps the sharks away.
Nyqo, an 8-year-old Australian shepherd, came to the Conley family as a companion dog through the Stink Bug Project for Alyza, who is a brain cancer survivor.
The Stink Bug Project is a program of Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation. It matches obedient companion dogs to families with a child diagnosed with a serious medical condition. A group of Stink Bug dog recipients gathered June 7 for a “PAWS To Celebrate” at the KONG Company headquarters in Golden. The event commemorated Stink Bug Project founder Allison Winn’s high school graduation and the 100th dog adopted through the program.
“We have seen how isolated and lonely the children can get when they’re sick,” said Lee Shaughnessy, the director of programs for Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation. “A dog provides unconditional comfort and love.”
The Stink Bug Project started nine years ago by founder Allison Winn, 18, of Denver who has survived brain cancer. when she was 9, she got her dog Coco, a poodle that’s now 10, from the Prison-Trained K-9 Companion Program.
There were two other families at the prison picking out dogs that day, Winn said. The other children were playing with the dogs, but because she was sick, Winn sat off to the side, just watching, she said.
“Coco was the only one to notice that I wasn’t playing with the other kids and dogs,” Winn said. “She came over and sat on my lap, and that’s how we knew we wanted her.”
Winn used the term stink bug for her cancer and chemo, she said, and Coco became her best friend — she was always there to comfort Winn after chemo treatments and radiation.
Because of this, “I wanted to help other kids get dogs,” Winn said.
So, she and her sister Emily, 16, sold lemonade and homemade dog biscuits to raise enough money to help another child with an illness get a dog, and the project kept growing.
“No matter how young you are, never be afraid to change the world,” Winn said, a recent high school graduate who will be going off to study theater arts this fall at the University of Northern Colorado because of its dog-friendly campus.
The Prison-Trained K-9 Companion Program is at seven facilities across Colorado and has saved about 43,000 dogs since 2009 when the Stink Bug program began, said Darlene McInnes, the instructor for the program. The dogs come from shelters, rescues, puppy mills and private surrender, she added.
But it’s also a benefit for the inmates, McInnes said. The dogs give them something to love and care for, she said.
“There are women in those prisons who, without having a dog to be with and train, wouldn’t be alive today,” McInnes said.
The Stink Bug program is a win all around — for the families and children, the dogs and the trainers, said Kelly Hansen of Denver whose daughter Mora, 10, has expressive speech disorders, known as childhood apraxia.
The Hansen family’s companion dog, Rafael C., affectionately called Rafa, has helped Mora become more social, both with her peers and adults, including people familiar to her and strangers, Hansen said.
“The trained dogs help with confidence for the children’s emotional well-being and physical comfort,” Hansen said. “And that extends to the rest of the family.”
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