Meet Harry, a Canine Companion for Independence, and His Owner

Dogs wear a lot of hats. In addition to being loving pets, they can serve in the police K9 force, help with rescue missions, and they can provide emotional support. They’re fiercely loyal creatures, incredibly smart, and ready to help at the drop of a hat.

Many organizations have nurtured this natural inclination in dogs to provide a hugely beneficial bond and exchange between human and pet. Canine Companions for Independence is one of those organizations. This non-profit provides free, highly trained assistance dogs to adults and children with disabilities.

Today we’re excited to highlight one of those dogs, Harry, along with his owner, Cassandra Morris, a pediatric occupational therapist. Currently, the bulk of Cassandra’s work is through an ABA clinic where most of her clients are autistic. She works with them to develop various skills, including self-care skills, motor skills, feeding skills, and sensory-processing skills. Keep reading to learn how Harry helps! 

purrch: How did you first learn about Canine Companions for Independence?

Cassandra: I first heard about CCI through a previous employer. When I worked at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, we had a couple different CCI dogs there. It was awesome to be able to utilize these dogs in therapy with the kids! It was so motivating for some of the kids. My current employer was unaware of the program but very open to becoming involved.

Tell us all about your canine companion!

My partner in crime is Harry—technically Harry VI. He is a yellow lab who just turned three on December 4, 2020, and we have been partners for just over a year. When I was partnered with him, one of the things his puppy raisers told me upfront was that Harry was so “zen” and had an old soul. While Harry does have his moments of spunkiness to play, he is, overall, a very chill dog.

What sort of skills does Harry have?

Harry came to me from CCI knowing approximately 40 commands. These commands are invaluable to what we do with the kids, but so is the overall demeanor that he has been trained to maintain. Harry maintains calm interactions and is trained not to bark, lick, jump, etc. These are things that can be both scary—but also pose a dangerous or aversive situation—for kids who are unsteady or sensitive to certain input.

Additionally, his commands make it possible for him to do everything from shaking hands to sitting on laps, to retrieving an item to hand to a client. It is also nice because we were given the tools to continue training new relevant skills that will aid in our practice. For example, I have trained Harry to ride on a scooter board that the kids can pull to work on strength and coordination.

What is a meaningful way that Harry has recently helped a patient?

How involved Harry is in a session varies from client to client. Some kids are not safe with him or do not have an interest in him. Other kids, however, have a deep love for him. I have one client in particular right now who loves Harry fiercely. On top of being autistic, she does have other diagnoses that affect her motor abilities. One of the skills she was struggling greatly with in her physical therapy sessions was jumping. Her physical therapist and I decided to do a therapy session together and she worked so hard for Harry. Within a couple of sessions, her skills for jumping improved greatly! And I have to say the love is a two-way street. She is one kid who I can tell Harry loves to see.

Harry lives at home with you, right? How’s that going?

While Harry is a facility dog for my company, he ultimately is considered my dog and would follow me if I switched jobs. (He would go back to CCI if I stopped working.) So yes, he does live at home with my family. He has been a great “pet” as well. He still has to follow basic manners at home but does enjoy just hanging out with the family.

One of the big ways he has helped our family is with my middle child, Eli. When Harry came home, Eli was scared of larger dogs as he had previously been knocked down by one. You would never know it now. He is probably my child who is the most devoted to Harry and loves helping to feed him, let him outside, or take him to his kennel.

Any final thoughts before we go?

I love the work the CCI does. Harry is considered a facility dog, but CCI also provides dogs to those with disabilities, veterans, and the hearing impaired. They are also working on creating new programs.

It is also so cool to see the different types of environments CCI facility dogs go into. Just in my graduating class, there were dogs going to a school counselor, an inpatient children’s psychological ward, and a prosecutor’s office. And these dogs are provided free of charge to those who qualify. If you are looking for an animal organization to support, CCI is really an amazing organization.

Learn more about Canine Companions for Independents, and consider donating to the organization.

Purrch is powered by a team of ultra-passionate pet peeps, adoption advocates, and fellow pet nerds who believe that animals big and smol make us—and the world—better. We can’t wait to see your heckin’ cute pets, watch your Tails, and build friendships along the way. You can download the Purrch app here