The dog treat company pledges funds to Canine Assistants

By Kate Hogan
December 21, 2009 11:00 AM

When Jake Jeter was injured in a diving accident in 2001, his life was forever changed. Restricted to a wheelchair at just 17, he lost the ability to close his hands and missed out on some teenage rites of passage in his hometown of Montgomery, Ala. But his life changed again in 2003, when he was paired with Baxter, a service dog trained through Canine Assistants in Milton, Ga. “He’s all work,” says Jeter who is starring in an ad campaign for MilkBone that is helping fund service dogs like Baxter. “But when that leash comes off, he’s always ready to play.”

Jeter, a 26-year-old law student, learned of Canine Assistants while in spinal cord rehab at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. “A lady came by with a dog, and explained the program,” he recalls. “The more I thought about it, the more appealing the idea was to me.” Jeter filled out an application, and after a while – the organization’s wait-list lasts up to five years – he learned he’d be flown to the facility to meet a dog.

Canine Assistants is spread out on 18 acres of land, where puppies are carefully bred and then trained from birth. At 18 months of age, they graduate, and meet with a handful of humans they’ll possibly be servicing. “We like them to go young because it allows them to form a bond with the recipient,” explains Meghan Hopkins, Canine Assistants Aftercare Coordinator. “They’re socialized starting at 8 weeks of age, so by then they’re good and ready.”

As a corporate sponsor of Canine Assistants, which is funded entirely through donations, MilkBone is pledging a portion of proceeds from all treat sales to the organization. “We place about 80 dogs a year, but have well over 1,000 people on our waiting list,” says Hopkins. “It’s heartbreaking when we have to tell people there’s such a wait. But that’s why we’re so thankful to MilkBone – the more intake we get, the more people we can help.”

Jeter says Baxter “chose him,” after the two had a chance to meet and work together over the course of his two-week visit to Canine Assistants. So he took the black Labrador/golden retriever pup home, and the rest is history.

Now Jeter is going through another milestone in his life: He’s meeting with other dogs since it’s time for Baxter to retire (his family will keep the pooch as a pet). “It’s a pretty awesome organization,” he says. “And I just feel so privileged to have helped them out a little.”

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