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Clara's graduation

RICHMOND, Va. (September 24, 2020) — Motivation and support come in many forms, including a cold nose and a warm heart. Sheltering Arms Institute, a collaboration with VCU Health, is pleased to welcome its newest team member, Canine Companions for Independence Facility Dog, Clara. Clara will assist handler Dr. Cynthia Rolston, Director of Psychosocial Services and Inter-Professional Science, in her work with patients.

Clara is a two-year-old Lab/Golden Retriever cross and has been training since she was eight weeks old. After being carefully matched with one another, Clara and Dr. Rolston spent the last two weeks working with professional Canine Companions instructors to prepare for their new roles. Training consisted of intensive lectures, hands-on practice and simulations, and multiple examinations in order to acquire public certification.

In just her first few days on the job, Clara has already acclimated to the many changes in her life and settled into her new home and work environment, bringing smiles to our patients’ faces.

“This is a new and exciting program for all of us, and I can’t wait to see how Clara helps our patients achieve independence,” Dr. Rolston said. “We will be working together as a team as we integrate Clara into patient therapy sessions at Sheltering Arms Institute.”

Since 1975, Canine Companions has bred, raised, and expertly trained assistance dogs in more than 40 commands designed to assist people with disabilities or to motivate and inspire patients with special needs. Clara can pull toy wagons, push drawers closed, and retrieve all kinds of items. She has specific commands that allow her to interact with patients in a calm and appropriate way.

“We have full confidence Clara will be an exceptional facility dog for Sheltering Arms Institute and bring a host of skills and smiles to the halls daily. She will assist the patients with their therapies, help patients practice their activities of daily living, and bring an added psychological assist,” said Debra Dougherty, Northeast Region Executive Director for Canine Companions for Independence.

Canine Companions for Independence enhances the lives of people with disabilities by training and placing more than 6,000 assistance dogs with program graduates. Canine Companions depends on the support of tens of thousands of donors and volunteers to match our facility with an assistance dog like Clara entirely free of charge. The support for staff training and Clara’s ongoing needs is being provided by generous Sheltering Arms Foundation donors.

About Sheltering Arms Institute

Sheltering Arms and VCU Health System have formed a joint venture, Sheltering Arms Institute, a state-of-the-science physical rehabilitation hospital, that brings together the brand and clinical reputation of Sheltering Arms and the nationally ranked programs of VCU Health. The Institute blends advanced technology, research, and evidence-based clinical treatment to create an innovative, transdisciplinary model of rehabilitative care that will facilitate superior outcomes for patients. All outpatient services for both parent organizations will operate separately for now and into the foreseeable future. For more information, please visit www.shelteringarmsinstitute.com.