Veronica Saiba of College Point has a new best friend, brother and helpmate in Lynch, her Canine Companions assistance dog.
The 14-year-old has cerebral palsy, cannot walk and has limited use of her hands. Lynch has been trained to respond to more than 50 commands, including picking up the TV remote or phone that Veronica has dropped.
“It’s really made a huge difference,” says Veronica’s mom, Maria Saiba. “She has no siblings and she looks forward to seeing him when she gets home from school.”
Lynch is a 2-year-old Labrador-golden retriever mix who can turn light switches on and off, open and close doors and bark for help if the teen needs additional assistance.
“He’s my best friend and he helps me out,” Veronica said. “He loves me and I love him back.”
The teen added that when he picks up her phone, he’s careful with it. “He can even open drawers, but best of all he keeps me company,” she said.
Veronica and Lynch trained together for two weeks last summer at Canine Companions’ Northeast Regional Center in Medford, LI before he moved in with the Saibas.
“He’s a member of our family,” Maria Saiba said. “He’s so gentle and calm and perfect for her. We love him, too.”
Veronica’s father, Ramon, is also a big fan of Lynch, and he’s the one who walks the dog every day.
Veronica is a 10th-grader at the Queens High School of Teaching and Liberal Arts in Bellerose. In her spare time she does wheelchair ballet with a Bayside dance program.
Canine Companions for Independence is a national nonprofit group. It’s selective because there are a limited number of trained dogs and not all people who apply are qualified to have one, according to John Bentzinger, a spokesman for the Long Island branch.
“On average, our region graduates around 40 service teams a year,” Bentzinger said, noting that it took just over two years after she was accepted for Veronica to get her dog.