Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit that breeds, raises and trains assistance dogs, has graduated 5,753 teams since it was started in July 1975.
One of those teams includes University of Central Arkansas professor Sunjung Kim and Camo, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador/Golden Retriever.
Kim works in speech pathology — specializing in reading disabilities — in the UCA Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
She said about three years ago, a professor in the occupational therapy department came to work with her in her teaching program and brought her service dog, Nibs, to interact with Kim’s clients, who were children.
The kids, Kim said, were struggling with those reading disabilities, not very motivated to read but once Nibs was there, the whole atmosphere changed.
“The kids loved it,” she said.
That was when Kim said she decided to wanted to apply for a facility dog.
During the next year and a half, she said, she went through a competitive process that included paper applications, in-person interviews, her financials being reviewed, sending in pictures of both her home and workspace and a two-week training in San Diego where the company is located.
Finally, Camo came to her in February.
Kim said she wanted to integrate the dog into her clinic and classroom slowly, getting him used to everything first.
She said he’s already made a difference.
Not only does he provide that level of comfort these children need, Kim said, but also forces the clients to step out of their comfort zone.
She said, for example, there’s one little girl they work with that is selectively mute, and doesn’t like to talk but saw that change.
“With Camo, she loves dogs, she loves to talk,” Kim said. “But, at the same time, she needed to ask me [for] permission. Yes, it’s one part comfort but another part is verbal communication [work] too.”
Quite frequently, she said, people with disabilities fear people with scrutinize the, but with dogs, they don’t judge, which makes her clients more comfortable to start trying to work through their issues.
“He’s been very good with all the kids,” Kim said. “He loves people. That’s one of the big big [things].”
To keep him sharp, she said, she works with him everyday, using a variety of the more than 40 commands he was trained to do including sit, down, push, shake, jump and more.
Kim, who lives alone with Camo now, said she’s grown quite attached already and enjoys the company he provides.
“I just loved him,” she said. “He’s so calm. He really cares about the people and he wants to do good.”
Kim said because of the work she’s started with Camo, her knowledge base has grown as well as her teaching and clinical experience and even students are interested in using him for research with different demographics.
Through her work with Camo, she said, she hopes people will have the opportunity to learn about service dogs and how truly helpful, great and well-trained they are.
“That’s the only thing I want is for people to know,” Kim said. “Now, it’s only been three months, but I can’t imagine my life without him anymore. He’s just so special to me.”