July 31, 2020
The Covington County District Attorney’s Office has recently welcomed its newest team member, Canine Companions for Independence Facility Dog, Wendell III.
Wendell, under the leadership of his handler, Shawn Bentley, will assist children who are victims and witnesses of crime, abuse and neglect in Covington and surrounding counties, such as Crenshaw, Butler, Conecuh and Escambia. According to Bentley, “Wendell is professionally trained in over 40 commands that he will use to connect with his clients to offer compassion, comfort and courage throughout any or all parts of the Criminal Justice System. He has the ability to assist them in Forensic Interviews, counseling sessions, Grand Jury sessions and in open court as they testify.” Canine Companions breeds, raises and trains assistance dogs in commands designed to assist people with disabilities or to motivate and inspire clients with special needs. They train four types of assistance dogs: Service Dogs, which assist adults with disabilities by performing daily tasks; Hearing Dogs, which alert their partners to important sounds; Skilled Companions, which enhance independence for children and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities; and Facility Dogs, which assist clients in different facility settings, including health care, education and criminal justice. “This”, Bentley says “is how Wendell is trained.”
The process to become a facility dog includes two years of specialized training. At eight weeks old, these dogs are sent to volunteer puppy raisers, who spend 18 months training them in all basic commands and socialize them to prepare them for their work. After 18 months, they are turned back over to Canine Companions for Independence for another six to nine months of professional training. They are then matched with a handler to begin their work.
For over 45 years, Canine Companions has been enhancing the lives of people with disabilities by training and placing more than 6,400 assistance dogs with program graduates, including more than 285 dogs with military veterans and more than 1,600 dogs with children. The estimated cost of an expertly trained Caine Companions facility dog like Wendell is $50,000; however, each facility dog is provided at no cost. Canine Companions depends on the support of tens of thousands of donors and volunteers to match our facility with an assistance dog like Wendell entirely free of charge. Bentley also adds, “I am so thankful for Canine Companions for Independence and their dedicated work in training and providing these awesome dogs. And, I am very thankful for every individual, organization, company and anyone else that supports them financially. Without these people, Wendell could not have the job he has of giving people, especially children, the courage to face tomorrow. He has already made a huge impact in many lives, and I know he will continue to do so. I also want to thank Covington County District Attorney Walt Merrell and the entire District Attorney’s Office staff for their support during the two-year process to receive Wendell, and the Office of Prosecution Services for allowing me to be a part of their great team.”