HANFORD – United States Navy Veteran and Hanford resident Austin Parker has a new helper by his side, and he comes with a cold nose and a warm heart. Austin recently graduated from two weeks of training and received a service dog from Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that breeds, raises and trains assistance dogs for people with disabilities.Austin served for 11 years in the Navy as an Aviation Machinist’s Mate, doing two deployments on the USS Enterprise.

Two years ago, Austin was paralyzed after a motorcycle accident and is now a wheelchair user.Austin was matched with Service Dog Thiago, a two-year-old yellow Labrador/Golden Retriever cross, who has been professionally trained in over 40 commands.

Thiago will assist Austin by picking up dropped items, turning on and off lights, opening and closing doors and drawers and other tasks that will enable him to live a more independent life.The two graduated after completing an intense, residential, two-week Team Training course at Canine Companions’ Southwest Regional Center in Oceanside, CA.

During Team Training, students are strategically matched with assistance dogs and learn how to work with them safely and effectively. Though costs to breed, raise, train an assistance dog and provide ongoing support to the team are estimated at $50,000, Canine Companions assistance dogs are provided free of charge to recipients. Austin is thrilled to be matched with Thiago.

He says, “You know, they say give a dog a purpose, I think he’s given me a purpose.” 

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