From individual lawyers, to major firms, to the District Attorney’s Office, Philadelphia law has gone to the dogs — the trained service dogs of Canine Partners for Life.
CPL, a Chester County nonprofit that trains assistance dogs for individuals with disabilities, has gotten a boost from city firms including Volpe & Koenig and Wolf Block. But according to CPL, more help is needed.
“It costs $22,000 for each dog that we raise, train and place,” said Jennifer Kriesel, CPL’ director of development. The expense is CPL’s to cover, because, according to Kriesel, individuals who receive a dog through the program are only asked to pay a “fractional” cost.
Since 1989, CPL has provided service dogs for individuals with disabilities ranging from muscular dystrophy to epilepsy to Down syndrome. Dogs are placed either as full-service dogs capable of assisting owners at home and in public, or as in-home companion dogs, many of which work with children. According to Kriesel, CPL places about 25 service dogs and 15 companion dogs each year.
“Canine Partners for Life is a phenomenal organization,” Volpe & Koenig President Jay Halt said when the firm presented CPL with a $10,000 check last month.
The firm chose CPL, along with St. Edmond’s Home for Children, as the 2007 and 2008 recipient of its recently established Giving Fund. Through the Giving Fund, Volpe & Koenig plans to give $20,000 annually to Delaware Valley nonprofits. This year and last, CPL received $10,000, providing $20,000 total aid.
When asked what made CPL stand out from the at least 40 other local nonprofit organizations that applied to the Giving Fund, Halt said it met the firm’s goal of using the $20,000 to produce “very tangible benefits” to individuals.
Stephen Schott, a Volpe & Koenig partner and member of the Giving Fund selection committee, added that firm members were impressed with CPL’s plan for utilizing the donated funds.
“With Canine Partners for Life, that $20,000 pays for the training of a dog. That’s so concrete,” Schott said.
CPL has earmarked Volpe & Koenig’s donation to raising and training a 3-month-old Labrador mix, Einstein, named in homage to the firm’s intellectual property practice. Einstein’s presence at the check presentation — his introduction to Volpe & Koenig’s staff — upstaged even that of District Attorney Lynne Abraham.
“There’s an old show business axiom that says you never want to be on stage with a dog,” Abraham joked in her address to the firm. According to Abraham, CPL is a worthy beneficiary because it helps not only disabled individuals, but also dogs that might otherwise join Philadelphia’s “untold thousands” of abused and neglected animals.
Wolf Block partner William Wright said this benefit to animal welfare heavily influenced his decision to become involved with CPL seven years ago.
“I love dogs,” Wright said, “and this is a way that dogs can be a productive part of the world.”
Wright, who serves on CPL’ board of directors, became interested in the nonprofit when he attended a 2001 benefit event. Since then, he says that many of his friends — including his Wolf Block colleagues — have become involved with CPL.
“A lot of the lawyers help out with legal issues on a pro bono basis,” said Wright. Volunteer lawyers are especially useful, he added, because they can help CPL with the numerous regulations related to nonprofit management and rights of the disabled.
Kriesel agreed that assistance advocating for the disabled is beneficial but added that people can become involved with CPL on many different levels.
“We’re always looking for volunteers — people who can serve on our board, people who want to train a dog in their house,” Kriesel said.
Donating money is also appreciated, because of the cost of training dogs, said Wright.
When Einstein begins his service training in the coming months, Kriesel said he will need equipment including an identification jacket, leashes, treats, attention-getting clickers and toys. Volpe & Koenig’s donation will help pay for his expenses, but according to Halt, the firm does not have a future commitment with CPL, although CPL can re-apply to the Giving Fund this summer.
For the legal professionals involved with CPL, the expense of paying to train service dogs is not without payback — both for the individuals who receive dogs and for the lawyers themselves.
“This has probably been one of the best things I’ve ever been able to do as a lawyer,” said Wright of his work with CPL. “It’s helping people; it’s helping animals.”
“It becomes sort of a reward for what you really went to law school for.” •