Carden, who just became one half of Can Do Canines’ 800th team to certify, says of his desire to get an assistance dog, “I was just really hoping to have a companion to help me to do things that could enhance my daily life, that could make my disability less of a hindrance for me and have a partner to help me with things.” The disability Carden’s referring to is cerebral palsy. The partner, now helping him deal with it, is Viggo, a 3-year-old black Labrador Retriever.
Now in his 20s, Carden says that his chronic pain has been worsening in recent years, and also shares, “I’m getting to the age where I’m trying to move out of my house and I’m in graduate school, so I’m living on my own a lot more. I realized that a dog could help me feel so much safer and give me more stability.”
It didn’t take long for the critical bond to start forming between this pair. Carden explains that within the first couple of days, “I feel like he already knew that I was his person.” He adds that Viggo “fits so much of my lifestyle. I’m more of an introverted, low-energy person, and that’s exactly who he is as well…in dog-form, of course.” Even throughout the training process, the two relished their connection. Carden considered it an “empowering experience—physically, emotionally and mentally” and says, “He’s so in tune with me.”
On a regular basis, Viggo tunes in to perform a variety of skills for Carden, including tugging off socks and slippers, retrieving items, closing drawers, assisting with laundry and pressing access buttons (his favorite skill!). He can also “brace” Carden if he falls. Carden adds, “I can lose my balance fairly easily. Viggo helps support my back and legs from forward momentum,” allowing Carden to now walk longer distances. Viggo also helps Carden manage his muscle spasticity. “He'll lay on my legs and feet, and the pressure helps stop muscle spasms and stretch tight muscles,” describes Carden. “He also can help my spasticity by retrieving an ice pack from a special spot in my room.”
Plus, Viggo flies into action to light the way for Carden. “The dark interferes with my ability with balance and walking,” Carden says, “so he’ll go turn on a lamp that’s down a hallway near my bedroom.” Considering all the ways Viggo makes his life safer and easier, Carden reflects, “He’s very very dedicated to me and I’m very grateful.”
Carden wants others to be able to experience these same benefits. He is expecting to graduate in 2024 with a master’s in social work, believing, “Dogs are really healing in more ways than one.” In the future, he hopes to start a private practice that includes animal assisted therapy. While he wouldn’t use Viggo in this way, since he already has a job, he would depend on the support and confidence his sweet counterpart offers to introduce others to similar experiences. He says, “I’m really interested in doing therapy with other people with disabilities and using animal-assisted therapy as a way to interfere with trauma, like medical trauma. Dogs have always been such a therapeutic presence in my life, and I feel like the disabled community could benefit from that too.”
Carden doesn’t take his own pairing with Viggo for granted. Fighting back tears, he shares, “He’s just changed my life in so many ways that I have never really felt before or been able to experience. It’s so incredible that so many people have been able to impact my life and I don’t even know them.” To those who so lovingly raised and cared for Viggo, he says, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know where I would be without him.”
So even if he is modeling doggy drool stains on his pants from Viggo resting his head there, Carden feels “honored and grateful” to not just be part of Can Do Canines’ 800th team milestone, but to simply have such a life-changing teammate as Viggo.
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Great Start Home: The Lennander Family
Puppy Raiser: Jackson Correctional Institution
Special Thanks: Carol Middleton
You: Thank you for your donations!