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A Dog’s Best Friend/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/SEPT08/images/realtorScoop

Beverly Shine is passionate about training canine companion dogs for those in need.

Beverly Shine first got involved with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) nine years ago, when a friend invited her to attend a fund-raising event. And she’s been a passionate supporter of the nonprofit’s Southeast Regional Center ever since. “It’s so enriching,” says Shine, a sales associate with Prudential Florida WCI Realty in Orlando. “I have such admiration for these assist dogs and their trainers. They give people independence they’ve never had before.”

Shine recalls a wheelchair-bound college student who longed to live on his own in an off-campus apartment. “He got a CCI assist dog that allowed him to do that,” she says. “Skilled companion dogs can open and close doors, pick up things from the floor and even help people dress themselves. They also play an important role in boosting confidence and alleviating feelings of isolation. Their calm temperament and unconditional love makes them ideal for interacting with and motivating people of all ages.”

CCI carefully selects the dogs as puppies—usually golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers—and then assigns each to a trained volunteer, who keeps the dog in his or her home for about 18 months. When the dogs return to the CCI campus, they undergo extensive training for six to eight months before they “graduate” and are placed with a disabled person.

According to Shine, there are four categories of assist dogs: Service dogs assist adults with physical disabilities by performing practical daily tasks such as turning light switches on and off, pulling manual wheelchairs and retrieving dropped items. Skill companion dogs assist disabled children (or adults with severe disabilities) under the supervision of a facilitator—a parent, spouse or caregiver—who handles and cares for the dog. Hearing dogs help the deaf or hard of hearing by alerting them to key sounds, such as a knock on the door, a smoke alarm or someone addressing them by name. The facility dogs work alongside healthcare and educational professionals in settings such as rehabilitation centers, hospitals and special education classes.

“Our dogs are [provided at] no charge to the people receiving them,” Shine explains, “so we have to raise money to continue our efforts.”