It is International Assistance Dogs Week ( and I applaud the work of Canine Companions for Independence, which provides highly trained assistance dogs at no charge to hundreds of people across the country.

Ken Johnson is a retired English teacher from Waterford who was diagnosed with ALS in 2008. Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, this progressive illness has left Ken with no movement in his upper body. He applied for an assistance dog from Canine Companions, but stipulated that if there were soldiers or children looking for a dog, they should be taken care of first. So it took three years for him to get a dog.

"As a teacher for 35 years, I recognize good teaching," Ken said. "I was so impressed with Canine Companions' two-week training program. The instructors were knowledgeable and knew immediately what each of us needed from our dog." In his case, the dog would be his arms and hands. He welcomed Reeves, a black Lab/golden retriever mixed breed last February.

"The tone of my life changed when I got Reeves," Ken said. "I had lost my appetite and suddenly I felt like eating again. I laugh a lot more now. Reeves has the personality of an eighth-grader. He is spunky and fun-loving."

While Ken uses a mouth stick, foot mouse and voice activated software around the house, he depends on Reeves to help him retrieve objects, open doors and help him when he is unsteady on his feet. "Psychologically, emotionally and practically, Reeves has changed my life," he said.

All the good work Canine Companions does is threatened by a recent rash of people purchasing service dog vests for their dogs so that they can take the dog to restaurants and other public places that ban pet dogs. This is a serious problem, and Canine Companions wants the Justice Department to step in and stop the sale of service dog apparel online unless it is for a dog who has received certification from Canine Companions or another reputable organization.

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If you would like to join bestselling author Dean Koontz and others as a supporter of Canine Companions, visit the website at You will be providing a more fulfilling life to a child, a soldier or anyone with a disability.

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New Canaan resident Cathy Kangas is a member of the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States. She can be reached at