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Kelsie’s Canine Partner “For Life”

Jadan Willis

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Kelsie Simpkins is a junior that is currently training a black lab, Kenzie, through Canine Partners for Life. The site reads:


“The mission of Canine Partners for Life is to increase the independence and quality of life of individuals with physical, developmental, and cognitive disabilities or who are in other situations of need. We achieve our mission by providing and sustaining professionally trained service and companion dogs.

CPL’s primary efforts will be focused on an area within a 250 mile radius of Cochranville, Pennsylvania, but we look forward to continuing to place dogs with recipients from across the nation who come to us because our dogs and services are held in such high regard.

  • We train our dogs to meet the specific needs of individuals and the environments in which they are living.
  • We seek to establish a lifetime bond between dog and graduate.
  • We commit ourselves to a comprehensive program of follow-up training and support services to ensure each team’s success in achieving their goals.”

How long will you have her and what is the plan for training her?

“Right now I have her for three to six months; it depends on how well she’s doing and if they find out who she’s gonna be with. I’m currently training her for general obedience. I’m teaching her her manners and how to act in public…They actually give you a book where they write out the steps. You just have to follow them and make sure she’s calm and well-behaved in public…There were four classes before I got her, and then I have to go to two classes every month. They’re at Canine Partners for Life in Cochranville.”

What happens after the three to six months?

“After the three to six months, she goes back to Canine Partners. They actually have professional trainers that train her for who she’s gonna be with. So they’ll train her how to open doors, fridges, cabinets, turn off the lights, and stuff like that. Anything that will help more people. Once they figure out who she gets, they go back and specially train her for that person.”

What made you want to train a service dog?
“I really like dogs! I mean we already have dogs, so we kind of knew a little bit of what we were getting into. I really wanted to figure out a way to help the community and I thought it’d be really cool to bring her into school. I guess I was right; a lot of people like seeing her.”


Does Kenzie get along with your other dogs?

“They’re buddies; they’re like best friends. It’s so sweet.”


What was the process for getting Kenzie?
“I put in an application in September or October [2017], and they had to do a background check and stuff like that. Since I’m under 18, I had to have my dad put in an application as well. He had to be a certified volunteer as well. We both needed three letters of recommendation. I heard back from them about a week after I turned in my application. It’s just a really long process to try to get a dog because it’s a big responsibility to be taking care of a dog that is worth thousands and thousands of dollars to people that really need her.”


How old is she?

“She’s about 17 months. She was born in October [2016]; her birthday’s October 21st I think.”


How has your life changed?

“It’s kind of hard to take her everywhere. She does really well, but it’s still different. I’ve had a lot of people who have told me that I have to leave her outside. The hardest place to take her into is a restaurant because she tries to eat food off the floor, and she’s not allowed to do that obviously.”


How do you discipline her?

“There’s actually no negative reinforcement; it’s all positive. We have to be really happy all the time. I think that’s another thing too. She’s made me feel really happy because I love dogs so much, I love seeing her happy. It makes me a lot happier to come to school especially. I get up in the morning and say, ‘This is gonna be a good day because I get to bring the dog to school.’ I just think it makes stuff better.”


What do you do for taking her to the bathroom?

“I take her outside; I use whatever door’s closest. I have to prop the door open with something or I can stand in the door if she can reach a patch. If she poops, I have to take it to the dumpster outside the cafeteria. Most of the time teachers don’t ask me for a pass because they just know she has to go when she has to go.”

What are the difficulties that come with having a service dog?
“Making sure she doesn’t eat food off the floor. Like I said before, a lot of people say, ‘You can’t have your pet in here,” and I have to explain that she’s not a pet. Another thing too is that if people don’t read what’s on her back, people think there’s something wrong with me. They’re like, ‘So how does she help you?’ And I say, ‘No, I’m actually just training her.’ I also have to make sure people aren’t distracting her because some people don’t realize that she’s working. Obviously people are allowed to pet her, but it’s at my discretion. So if she’s working, I want her to be paying attention and not people walking by and swiping her and petting her without asking. That makes me frustrated.”


How do people react?
“A lot of people look at her and want to pet her, so I think it’s been a little bit of sunshine in school…I haven’t really had any negative reactions to her. Actually today, someone said, ‘It smells like dog in here.” I was like, ‘Wow. Thanks. It’s probably you.’ I give her baths once a month.”


What’s your favorite part about having her?
Probably that she makes me happy. I like playing with her and making other people happy. I like how other people react to her. I like seeing people enjoying the same things I enjoy.”


What were you nervous about?
Definitely her going to the bathroom on the floor. That was my huge thing…She came and she already knew some stuff. I was really nervous I wasn’t gonna do exactly what I was supposed to do. It’s going really well though; it’s a lot different than I thought, not in a negative way. I thought I was gonna be overwhelmed, but it’s really not that bad. I mean, if you like what you’re doing, then it’s not a job.”


What makes someone a good candidate to be a trainer?
You have to love animals. You have to absolutely love them because you cannot get frustrated with them; that’s just how they train them. That obviously works well because they’re really good dogs. You cannot lose your temper with them. You have to be really patient. I think if you’re a patient person and you love animals, then you’d be great. I also think you have to have some time. You can’t be someone who does something 24/7; like if you’re involved in sports and you have a job. I had a job and I was still able to handle it because she needs crate time everyday, which was fine. If you’re doing something all the time, it’s gonna be a pain in the neck.”


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The student news site of Solanco High School
Kelsie’s Canine Partner “For Life”