Speck, a terrier/Chihuahua mix, sat obediently on his mom’s lap as she answered questions and shared their story. As Karin Hanson spoke, she gently rubbed his belly or scratched his back, up beneath his red Can Do Canines harness. Though he seemed relaxed, he was alert on the job.
The 3.5-year-old dog was still, calmly looking around the room and shifting his weight as needed. He and Karin were paired through Can Do Canines, where Speck was trained to assist the hearing impaired.
His stillness seemed to show just how far this little dog had come — from a stray running loose on the streets in Dallas, to awaiting an unknown future at an Animal Humane Society shelter, to sitting in Karin’s lap ready to help at a moment’s notice.
“I just think he’s a wonder dog,” Karin says. “He’s responded to the sounds so quickly. He knows things. He knows where he’s going, he knows where he lives. I say ‘ok you tell me where you live’ and he takes me right to my apartment door.”
Speck helps Karin, who is hard of hearing, lead an independent life. When the phone rings, the smoke alarm goes off, or someone knocks at the door, he zips into action. He’ll speed right up to Karin and then zip to the point of the sound, letting her know something is happening in their home.
At Animal Humane Society, we’ve always believed pets change lives. As a hearing assist dog, this little ball of energy is making a profound difference each and every day.
Earning his cape
Speck was found on the street in Dallas. Running loose, he was picked up by an officer with Dallas Animal Services. He eventually went to Rockwall Pets, a shelter in Balch Springs, Texas.
Due to a lack of space in the southern shelter, Speck moved north through Animal Humane Society’s transport program. He arrived at our Golden Valley location on April 29, 2017. Days later, Can Do Canines identified him as a potential candidate to become a service dog.
Can Do Canines is a local organization that trains service dogs and matches them with people living with a disability. Dogs trained through the organization start as young as 7-8 months and are placed with a client by the age of 3, on average. Service dogs are trained to reliably perform a specific skill, and are well behaved both in the home and out in public.
According to Laurie Carlson, community outreach coordinator at Can Do Canines, potential animal candidates need to pass a temperament test first. If they pass, they’re placed in foster care for more evaluation. If they meet the proper health and behavior standards, they can start training. Once they pass training, they officially earn their harness, also known as a cape.
AHS partners with Can Do Canines to provide dogs free of charge that they've identified as a good fit for a service animal. It's just one way we're doing more for animals and the people who love them. AHS has provided 27 shelter dogs to Can Do Canines throughout our partnership so far. The first dog was placed in 1994, a lab mix named Pepper.
Training a shelter dog can be challenging. The trainers don’t have much history about the animal, so it can be difficult to anticipate the challenges they might encounter in teaching them to behave appropriately around other dogs and people. Though he showed a lot of promise, Speck had a lot of catching up to do. At 1.5-years old, he already had certain behaviors he picked up from his experiences as a stray.
But Speck was smart. He soon learned to remain calm around other dogs. While he still has small reactions to certain strangers, he proved himself to be a capable service companion.
Finding the right fit
While Speck was in training, Karin was living with a service dog, a Pomeranian named Sweetie. But in May 2018, Sweetie passed and Karin was unsure if she’d get another one. But after missing four phone calls in the first week after Sweetie’s passing, she realized how different her life might be without the assistance. So she reached out to Can Do Canines for help.
On November 21, 2018, Karin welcomed Speck into her home.
Living in an apartment, Karin preferred a smaller dog. Can Do Canines makes an effort to place dogs that fit the right criteria.
While we often think of Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers when we think of service dogs, any dog with the right temperament and training can be a great service animal. The partnership between AHS and Can Do Canines is powerful, helping find more dogs of all kinds who can do this great work.
Life can be extra challenging for people who need service dogs to function. The role of the service dog is critical in their lives. These dogs soothe, aid and alert their humans — and sometimes even save lives.
“It’s been great. It’s unreal,” Karin says. “I’m so lucky to have him. He’s so attentive. It’s almost like he knows what I’m thinking.”
Celebrating a new beginning
On March 30, Can Do Canines celebrated a pack of new service dogs, including Speck. He was one of 16 dogs, each with their own story and skills to help their new owner.
Speck kicked things off, his tail wagging the entire time. A Can Do Canines volunteer remarked “You’re taking away our mascot,” giving Speck one final scratch on the chin.
Karin beamed whenever she had a moment to talk about her new best friend. It was apparent that a deep connection was already forming between the two.
“He’s an excellent dog,” Karin says. “I couldn’t ask for a better one.”
Speck seemed to stand a little taller, ears perked up, proudly wearing his little red cape. It’s fitting they call them capes — the perfect accessory for the quiet heroes they are.
Each year, thousands of animals are transported to AHS from other shelters, including many southern shelters like the one Speck came from. Learn more about our transport program and how we're helping more animals get second chances.