5 On Your Side

Service dogs provide companionship, independence; 'Today's' Wrangler moving to next step of training

Posted March 10, 2016

Dogs make great family pets.

For people with disabilities, though, dogs and other service animals can give independence as well as companionship.

For these types of puppies with a purpose, the goal is to forever change the lives of the people who get them.

Kay Gunter has a service dog. Its name is Cruz.

Cruz can do the laundry and also pull it from one end of his Durham home to the other. He maneuvers through hallways, around corners, doorways, furniture, and over rugs—his tail wagging the whole way.

Cruz opens and closes doors, gets packages from the porch and picks up anything Gunter drops without ever getting frustrated or annoyed.

"He's just ready to go anywhere and do anything," Gunter said.

Cruz's attitude makes him more than a service dog to Gunter—much more.

"He's just my best friend," Gunter said. "Don't tell my friends I said that, but he's my best friend."

Cruz's training through Canine Companions for Independence started as a puppy, with a volunteer puppy raiser.

NBC's "Today" has a dog on set named Wrangler. He's in the middle of similar training with the help of the "Today" crew and a handler from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

The goal is socialization: teaching the pups how to interact calmly and appropriately, at home and in public. With both organizations, the dogs go through a second round of professional training before they graduate and go to their forever person, free of charge.

Beyond handling tasks, these special dogs provide access and independence that most people often take for granted.

"The most wonderful thing for me is that nobody sees who is at the end of the leash when I'm out with Cruz," Gunter said. "They only see Cruz."

The dogs also help raise awareness about the role of service animals, and of course make great companions.

"Every day he greets the day like, 'It is the best day of my life. I'm so excited. Aren't you?'" Gunter said, laughing. "And I'm like, 'Oh, Cruz. We got to get up."

For Cruz, that means getting up and doing the laundry.

"It's very impressive how he tugs the basket," Gunter said. "But does he fold the clothes too? Not yet. We need to work on that."


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  • Crystal Norris Mar 10, 2016
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    Michael- People with allergies can take medicine. People with disabilities can't stop being disabled because it's more convenient for you. Have some compassion!

  • Michael Respole Mar 10, 2016
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    People with dog allergies love the movement to "pets/companions" everywhere. Restaurants, stores, planes.

  • Shelley Wilson Mar 10, 2016
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    WRAL "pit bulls" make wonderful service dogs!!! I'm sure it's no coincidence your picture featured with this article is not of a pit bull.