WILKES-BARRE — Spend a little time with Ryan Wasko and Metro and you soon realize that there is a strong bond between the two, with many benefits attached.
“He’s my best buddy,” Ryan said of Metro.
Wasko, 22 of Forty Fort, has Down syndrome and he has had a service dog since 2010 — his first service dog was Einar, now 14 and retired and living with the Waskos. The second service dog, Metro, is 5, and he and Ryan are constant companions.
On Friday, Ryan and his mom, Barbara, were at Wegmans to do some shopping. As they walked through the store, many of the employees said hello to both Ryan and Metro.
“This has been a real confidence builder for Ryan,” his mother said. “Ryan used to be afraid of dogs, but that has all changed. Ryan and Metro and Einar have all bonded — we’re a family.”
Ryan’s mom said Ryan has improved in may ways — socially, behaviorally, and the aforementioned improved confidence. She said Ryan’s balance has improved and his overall skill level has also much improved.
“Ryan’s stress level has been greatly reduced as well,” she said. “It’s really been a great experience for us.”
John Bentzinger is with Canine Companions in New York, which is the nation’s first and largest service dog organization serving adults, children and veterans with disabilities free of charge.
Bentzinger said a couple of years ago, Ryan was sworn in as a Kingston/Forty Fort as an honorary volunteer firefighter/support staff member — Ryan will be returning to the KFD soon after being off through the pandemic. Ryan helps with inventory, towel folding and he cleans up the station and changes light bulbs, among other tasks.
“Ryan’s second service dog, Metro, is a 5-year-old lab-golden retriever cross who in addition to being Ryan’s best friend, helps him with more than 40 professional commands — opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, helping Ryan improve his speech skills (he must enunciate commands clearly), and Metro makes therapy more fun,” Bentzinger said.
Bentzinger said Canine Companions is a volunteer-driven organization.
“We couldn’t serve without our caring group of volunteers,” he said. “Canine Companions volunteer puppy raisers provide our specially-bred puppies a safe home, take them to obedience classes, serve up a healthy diet, provide socialization opportunities and give lots of love.”
Bentzinger said each hour spent caring for a Canine Companions puppy is vital to its development as a future service dog — like Einar and Metro.
“The puppy raising program provides a unique opportunity for volunteers to assist with our very important mission,” Bentzinger said.
According to Bentzinger, volunteer puppy raisers receive pups at about 8 weeks of age, raising them in their homes for about 18 months. The pups are taught basic commands and socialization skills.
“Many go to work with our volunteers,” Bentzinger said. “At the end of a year and a half, the future service dogs are returned to Canine Companions where they work with our professional instructors for 6 to 9 months learning over 40 commands that are useful to a person with disabilities.”
Bentzinger said Canine Companions currently has over 4,700 volunteers nationwide, and currently there are 971 puppies being raised.
“One more point — a lot of people don’t understand the differences between different types of working dogs, Bentzinger said. “Canine Companions dogs are service dogs. They are not ‘therapy dogs,’ ‘comfort dogs,’ or any other type of working dogs. So Metro is Ryan’s service dog. Any other titles won’t be correct.”
Ryan’s mom said being part of the Canine Companions family has been a privilege.
“This is something that we will always be grateful for,” she said. “It’s been life-changing for the better for Ryan.”
About Canine Companions
Canine Companions enhances independence for children, adults and veterans with disabilities through expertly trained service dogs.
Their service dogs assist people with a wide range of disabilities, including multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, stroke, hearing loss, developmental delay, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and more.
Established in 1975, Canine Companions is the largest non-profit provider of service dogs in the United States.
After successfully completing professional training, the dogs enter Team Training. Team Training is a two-week intensive training where recipients are matched with their new service dogs and learn to work together as a team. Team Training culminates in an uplifting graduation ceremony, signaling the beginning of a new life together.
For some graduates, it means returning to work, reducing medication or their dependency on caregivers. Others gain confidence and security to leave their homes and maximize their potential in the community. But for all Canine Companions graduates, one of the greatest rewards is the unconditional love and unique relationship they experience through partnership with a Canine Companions service dog.
Canine Companions service dogs take their work seriously and are recognized for their high level of training. When not on the job, a Canine Companions dog enjoys off-duty time just as a pet dog would.
Canine Companions is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and founding member of Assistance Dogs International (ADI), a coalition of non-profit service dog organizations that are committed to the highest standards in the training, placement, utilization and education around service dogs.