Can Do Canines celebrates 30 years training service dogs

This year, Can Do Canines is celebrating 30 years of work across Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Before the dogs find their permanent homes, most spend time behind bars as part of their training.

Stephanie Cardenas and her five-year-old assistance dog Rizzo have forged a tight bond. Stephanie has spina bifida, and Rizzo helps out by fetching more items than your typical Fido.

“A lot of time I will drop my cell phone and [Rizzo] will gladly pick it up, sometimes without me asking,” she said.

Lead trainer Shenna Lemche said the group works most on the dogs’ basic obedience, including the ability to retrieve.

Laurie Carlson with Can Do Canines said, "We train for hearing, mobility, seizure and diabetes assist.”

Palmer is one of more than 660 dogs who’ve passed through the halls at Can Do Canines. Before the dogs head to homes for additional training, some are partially trained by prisoners in area prisons. 

“They are working with them, two inmates per dog and basically starting them in their skills,” Carlson said.

It’s all part of a nearly two-year training process that ends with dogs like Rizzo joining local families, all for nearly no cost to them.

“They can cost up to $25,000 per dog to train for us. We cover those costs, they only pay a $50 application fee, that’s all they pay for,” Carlson said.

“Can Do Canines has really given me the opportunity to see what life is like without the fear,” Cardenas added. “Rizzo has saved my life.”

Can Do Canines is looking for volunteers, and there is a graduation class this weekend. If you’d like more information, click here.