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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2019 1 year ago

Winter Garden residents celebrate graduation of service dog

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Elroy, a hearing service dog trained under Winter Garden residents Robin and Paul Sanchez, found his life partner.
by: Sarah Cavacini Intern

Winter Garden resident Robin Sanchez couldn’t hold back tears as she talked about Elroy, a golden labrador retriever crossover she raised to become a service dog for the hearing impaired. 

She and her husband, Paul Sanchez, attended the graduation ceremony held at Canine Companions for Independence Friday, May 24, off Clarcona-Ocoee Road. The ceremony was for all the dogs that graduated from the May class that now will become a partner to someone who is hearing impaired. It was the largest graduating class in two years, with six dogs graduating from the program. 

“I’ve seen how (these dogs) can change lives,” Robin Sanchez said. “They give people independence.” 

This is the sixth dog the Sanchez family has raised from a puppy and trained. They taught Elroy more than 30 commands  — such as sit, shake and jump — in 18 months before handing him over to CCI, where he finished his training for nine months. 

People from all over the country volunteer to be puppy-raisers and do exactly what the Sanchez family did. 

At the end of training, each dog is evaluated to see if it meets the qualifications to become a service dog.

The Sanchez family had to wait nine months to learn whether Elroy qualified to graduate.

“You’re on pins and needles,” Paul Sanchez said. 

Elroy is the first dog the Sanchez family has raised to graduate from the Canine Companion program. 

“Today, he begins his new journey with his new partner, and we couldn’t be more excited,” Robin Sanchez said. 

Elroy became the partner of 22-year-old graduate student Lauren Armstrong. She is from Knoxville, Tennessee, and waited almost two years to get a hearing dog. She spent two weeks training with Elroy to make sure he was a perfect fit. 

“I feel a lot more secure and a lot more confident in who I am,” Armstrong said. 

Having Elroy means she doesn’t have to worry about not being able to hear a siren or a smoke alarm. 

Armstrong recently graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with bachelor’s degrees in speech pathology and audiology. She starts graduate school in August at UT Knoxville to become an audiologist. But for now, she will go on adventures with Elroy until they start school together. 

“He is adorable. … It was worth the wait,” Armstrong said. 

“I am so proud of Elroy,” Robin Sanchez said. “He’s going to change her life in so many ways.” 

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