Canine Companions

It never gets easier for Plano residents Sean and Stacy Napoles to raise a puppy, only to have to give it away after 18 months — until they see the impact it makes.

“We went to a graduation and heard people’s stories and what profound difference the dogs make in people’s lives,” Stacy said. “What dawned on us is how can you not let them go? That’s what they are meant to do.”

Stacy and Sean Napoles, with their Golden Labrador, Cal // photos Jenice Johnson WIlliams

The Napoles volunteer for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs free of charge and the ongoing support needed to ensure quality partnerships. Potential volunteers fill out an application, sign a legal agreement that the dog belongs to CCI and agree to follow the guidelines for public access and vet care. CCI also conducts home visits to make sure each environment is safe for a young puppy.

Volunteers receive each puppy at eight weeks old and are responsible for them for 16-18 months so they can learn commands and get socialized. After that the dog goes on to the nearest CCI facility in Irving to get six more months of training.

Sean and Stacy Napoles just turned in their 10th puppy. The goodbyes are always tearful but the good news is that each contract states if the dog graduates, the owners may decide to stay in touch with the raisers.

“We’ve been lucky that all of ours have,” Stacy said. “Especially through social media. We get to see their adventures.”

One of their favorite stories is of their eighth dog, August – Auggie for short. He was always a very rambunctious puppy, and the couple admitted they had their doubts about him being able to graduate.

“You always try to predict if they will make it, but this puppy was high energy,” Stacy remembered. “You couldn’t wear him out!”

When it was time to take Auggie to the facility, CCI tried to teach him how to tug a strap, which helps open doors, cabinets and refrigerators for those with mobility issues. However Auggie continued to just play with the strap, so the trainer began playing with him outside with it. Once they put it back on the refrigerator, Auggie tugged the strap so hard it pulled the handle clean off. Even through all that, CCI figured out how to work with Auggie, and he graduated. He is now a full service dog to a paralyzed Marine who is also a wheelchair athlete.

Sean said only about 40 percent of the dogs graduate, which means when one doesn’t make it, CCI contacts the raiser to see if they want to take them back. The couple currently has a 7-year-old golden Labrador named Cal who couldn’t graduate because of hip issues.

Cal and Sean swimming

One of Cal’s most treasured activities – well, besides playing with his purple squeaky dinosaur – is swimming with Sean. Just saying the word “swim” gets Cal’s attention. Although it’s not required, Sean said his favorite part of raising puppies is teaching them how to swim. For some reason, each dog does the same trick while learning to get in and out of the water. While Sean swims below the water, Cal, like many others, chases him on top of the water.

“It’s great exercise for both the dog and the husband,” Stacy laughed.

Many of the couple’s days are spent enjoying their backyard patio and swimming with Cal. They don’t have any new puppies at their home currently but Sean and Stacy said Cal is just enjoying being an only child for a little bit.

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