Training Earley with Companion Dogs PlusFriday, March 28, 2014
Kristen Earley has spent spring break training with her new diabetic service dog "Jackson." Jackson was provided training and matched up with Kristen through Companion Dogs Plus (CDP), a unique assistance dog and pet adoption organization in Greencastle. She has been working every day with CDP owner Cynthia Mustaine, visiting local stores and restaurants to work on her commands and adjust to life with man's best friend/diabetic alert device
And now thanks to Companion Dogs Plus (CDP), the Earley family will be getting a leg up in the fight against diabetes, with a little help from a rescue dog named Jackson.
Jackson is a Catahoula Leopard Dog that was found abandoned along with his brother at an apartment complex in Greencastle. The dogs were taken by Companion Dogs Plus and given training to become assistance dogs. While his brother became a therapy dog, Jackson has been trained to sniff out changes in blood-glucose levels, which makes him not just man's best friend, but a diabetic's best friend as well.
Tracy Earley does not have diabetes, while husband Rod and daughter Kristen both have type 1 diabetes; the type individuals are born with.
Rod Earley was diagnosed at just 18 months of age and has worn a blood-glucose device for most of his life. The device he currently uses is the state-of-art Dexcom G4, the same model that diabetic Indy car racer Charlie Kimball uses.
Kristen is 14 years old and was diagnosed with diabetes at age 11 and for a while, tried wearing a blood-glucose monitoring device. But the Earleys began looking into other options when they learned that kids were teasing Kristen because of the device.
"With Jackson, she wouldn't have to (wear it)," Rod Earley explained.
After researching diabetic assistance dog providers around the country, the Earley family was surprised to learn that Companion Dogs Plus was actually right here in Greencastle. Upon further research they learned that the company wasn't just local, but that they had a unique business model among therapy and assistance dog programs: they rescue and train shelter dogs instead of puppies to help curb unnecessary dogs in the population.
Cynthia Mustaine, of Greencastle, started Companion Dogs Plus in November 2012. The 501(c)3 non-profit rescues from kill and no-kill shelters, as well as those found abandoned, and provides training to all the dogs they rescue. Some dogs will be taught basic commands and manners to be adopted out as pets, while others will be given more specialized training to become therapy and medical assistance dogs such as Jackson.
"It's all about relationships," Mustaine explained, "You've got to find that right match."
Jackson had met other potential families before meeting with Kristen, but there was a connection between them that just hadn't happened with others.
"You could see it in her eyes," Rod Earley said, elaborating that when his daughter and Jackson met, she even petted him differently than other dogs.
Matching up families, and training dogs is only part of the process, Mustaine understands that "training people" is equally important and challenging.
For Kristen, that training began over her spring break. And while Jackson and the Earleys have spent time together, this week marks the beginning of Jackson's integrations with the family, the beginning of Kristen being more in charge.
Mustaine goes to great lengths to ensure all lifestyle transitions with an assistance dog go smoothly, and that is why CDP ultimately retains a level of ownership over the dogs they adopt out. That ownership means CDP is invested in the family-dog relationship for the long haul, staying active with clients throughout the changing environments of life.
"If she's going off to college, the dog is going with her," Mustaine explained. CDP will be there to help with challenges that such major changes imply.
The genesis of CDP comes from a very personal place in Mustaine's life. With a family member diagnosed with autism and another who passed away due to complications from diabetes, she has experienced how difficult life can be for a person with the types of complications that many of us never have to consider.
Mustaine is also acutely aware of the abandonment cycle that many dogs experience.
Often it is the same story: cute puppy becomes a teenager, needs regular exercise and training, owner feels overwhelmed by added responsibility, owner surrenders dog to shelter. In a kill-shelter, the dog eventually, well, you get the idea.
Companion Dogs Plus rescues these types of dogs and makes them more adoptable by providing basic training for pets, and specialized training for assistance dogs.
Cost is often a major hurdle for families seeking assistance dogs. A typical medical assistance dog can range from $20,000 - $50,000 depending on the dog's specialization. Companion Dogs Plus still charges $20,000 but the company has a sponsorship program that helps clients navigate the process by having the family raise an initial minimum of $5,000 to receive the dog, then they work together to come up with the remainder through sponsorships and fundraising.
The Earley family was fortunate enough to get complete funding for Jackson. Donations from several local companies including Old National Bank, HOP Communications and HMSB Insurance; assistance from local community members including a bake sale held by the staff of Old National Bank and several donations from out-of-state friends and associates was enough to cover the remaining cost of Jackson, but not all dogs or families have such success.
For now, Kristen, Jackson and the rest of the Earleys will continue to train, adapt, and learn from their new family members.
And Companion Dogs Plus will be there too, helping them along the way.
For more information on adopting a companion or how to help sponsor an assistance animal, persons may contact Cynthia Mustaine at 317-903-2545 or at companiondogsplus.blogspot.com.