Ryan Sinclair, 9, has cerebral palsy, but thanks to his dog, Tiffi, he has a bridge to the outside world.
“When Tiffi wags her tail, sometimes he puts his head or arms near her and that gives him a needed soft touch,” said Kim Sinclair, Ryan’s mother.
For Ryan, that touch has a calming effect. And Tiffi was bred for this life: a life connected to volunteer puppy raisers, professional dog trainers and a boy who cannot speak.
One bark, and Ryan breaks out in laughter. Kim Sinclair said Tiffi is her son’s therapist and motivator.
The 3-year-old golden lab was raised by Bonnie Mueller, who took the pup into her San Clemente home for a year and a half. Mueller volunteers with Canine Companions for Independence and is training her twelfth dog. She considers each one a gift.
“I’m so excited when they go on, but I am losing my puppy,” Mueller said.
Mueller teaches the pups basic commands, which she says could lead to milestones. For example, paws on a wall will someday learn how to turn on a light switch.
Some 4,000 canines across the country are working as service dogs.
“For us,” Kim Sinclair said, “it’s added so much value and love and we have an incredible network of people.”