BANGOR, Maine — Chris Kingsbury of Bangor lost the use of his right arm and partial use of his right leg to a stroke in 1978. Three and a half decades later, he is slated to receive a highly trained helper that will devote its life to him.
“It’ll be like having the other arm back to use,” Kingsbury said Wednesday.
Thanks to a donation from Shaw’s Supermarket and Milk-Bone dog biscuits, Kingsbury will get a service dog from Canine Assistants, a Georgia-based nonprofit that trains service dogs and provides them to people with disabilities, at no cost to the recipient.
“We don’t charge a single cent,” said Kevin Balance of Canine Assistants. “We didn’t ever want to be about money.”
Balance brought his own dog, an attentive two-year-old golden-Labrador retriever mix named Henry, to an event at Shaw’s Supermarket in Bangor attended by representatives from Milk-Bone, Shaw’s, and Kingsbury. While Kingsbury won’t receive Henry, he will get another meticulously trained dog from the same farm in the next year or two.
Canine Assistants, which was founded in 1991, donates between 75 and 100 dogs each year to people who need them. The group’s volunteer trainers work with about 120 dogs at a time on Canine Assistants’ 18-acre farm.
The organization mostly works with golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and mixes. It breeds its own puppies at the farm. Training starts when puppies are three days old and continues for nearly two years.
Dogs are trained to do everything from opening doors, to turning off lights, to warning owners of oncoming seizures or diabetic episodes.
Kingsbury, who was a jeweler before his stroke, said his future dog would help him get up the stairs in his home. If he drops something, the dog will retrieve it, and Kingsbury no longer will have to worry about falling if he has to bend over to pick it up.
The total cost of training one service dog, including veterinary bills, food and other care is between $20,000 and $25,000. Canine Assistants is funded entirely through donations, like those from Milk-Bone and Shaw’s.
There are more than 1,500 people on the ever-growing waiting list for Canine Assistants dogs. Service dogs are distributed based on level of need rather than on a first-come-first-served basis.
Because of the backlog, Kingsbury likely will have to wait another year or two before he travels to the Canine Assistants farm, with all costs covered by the organization, to pick up his dog.
When he arrives, the organization will match him up with two or three dogs based on “personality assessments” of both the dogs and their prospective owner. Then, Kingsbury will work with each dog to determine which he will take home. The pair will spend the next two or three weeks at the farm working together.
Balance said the dogs sometimes choose their owners by jumping in their laps. He said watching the service dogs and owners work together is moving because the dogs are devoting their lives to people.
Kingsbury said he looks forward to meeting his future partner.
“Where I go, it’ll go,” Kingsbury said with a grin.