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"George" & Brennan

Until George entered our life I never understood what a service dog could do for our family. My son has been diagnosed with Global Delays and Autism. He has numerous fits, which include head butting and destructive behaviors.  George provides compression therapy which enables my son to calm down much faster.


Since we have been blessed with George these destructive behaviors have decreased by 80%. My son also is a flight risk he is now tethered to George everywhere we go and we couldn’t feel safer going places now. They sleep together, go to school together and are inseparable. George is the first person my son hugs when he gets up in the morning and the last person he hugs when he goes to sleep. His sleep patterns have also gotten much better, he cannot sleep through the night without George.


They are friends and companions that are lost without each other. George is the best friend my son could ever have. I thank God every day we were blessed with him.

"Anke" & Bob

Dogs have been my best friends for fifty years.  As a Guide Dog trainer, I have worked with people who are blind and visually impaired for over 40 years and have trained 2000 dogs and people during that that lifetime.

I have also trained other types of service dogs who help seniors, people with multiple disabilities, and children with autism.  My life has been committed to this work, and I have found immense pleasure in this career.

Every dog I worked with has been special to me, and some followed a trajectory of growth that was amazing to watch develop.

I consider it a privilege to have been assisting these dogs and their handlers who trusted them to navigate this crazy world we live in. 

I am proud of my chosen profession.  Many of the dogs and people I trained, the teams of two:  person/dog, have lifted my spirits in ways you cannot imagine.  However the 2 most important dogs in my life, both GSD’s are not guides, but they are animals who would have, or would lay down their lives in order to protect me.  The first “Otto” was my USN K-9 with whom I had the honor of serving in the jungles of Viet Nam in 1969 and 70. He did literally saved my life, and on many occasions by letting me know when danger was near.  

The second dog is here, lying at my feet as I write this. Her name is “Anke”, and she is “the love of my life” “the spirit who saved mine” 

Originally, I began training her to be a guide dog for a dear friend. I was given Anke on a Friday and remember that she had the most soulful eyes.  She came to me from Custom Canines in Wisconsin a non profit group that trains dogs and puppies for people and children with all manner of disabilities.  I was asked simply to puppy raise Anke as a possible breeder, and to teach her guidework.  At that same time, I had begun working with a couple of PTSD clients and dogs, while attending a program for them in Malibu called “Save a Warrior.”  Because I am a veteran, I was subject to the same scrutiny as all the other participants, and I too was diagnosed with PTSD.  This did not surprise me, as I had long experienced anger, bewilderment, and confusion at the world which I never could come to terms with.

With the tools that the program gave me and the continued support from my fellow Brothers and Sisters, I was able to start the Healing Process myself.  But, something was missing. I saw that I could get better, and I could continue my work with training dogs, but I also saw that I was strangely alone and I was still having difficulties and it was frustrating.

Working with Anke made me realize that she was what I needed. She tried to tell me but “I was too close to see it”!  Those around me all saw my need for this comfort and support from this wonderful dog.  Nicole with Custom Canines and Richard and Mary from Operation Freedom Paws saw it. My fellow Guide dog Instructors saw it. So I started working with her and paying attention to her signals. She is truly an amazing animal and I am blessed to have her by my side.

Last month I was given the most incredible gift ever. Nicole gave me “Anke” as my full time service dog, a gift I will never be able to repay so I will just “Pay it forward to others in need”

Thank you Nicole you are an amazing friend.

“Anke is my guardian Angel” and she has my back and I am grateful.  

" Burney" & Karen 

Dear Nicole,



Words cannot express what you have given me. By guiding me and Burney through the process of training for my mobility issues, will give me much more confidence when I am out and away from my home. Burney is a wonderful dog, teaching him these additional skills makes my life so much easier.


Your demonstrations and instructions; your examples and teachings were so easy to implement in our practices. Burney responded so quickly with your guidance. 


I have been very blessed to have been introduced to you, through Guide Dogs of the Desert, for this additional training.

The trips out to California could not have been easy for you, yet you came and guided us through this arduous training.  We are all blessed to have had you in our lives. We will remain friends through the years. Thank you once again. If I can every be of any assistance to you, please, you need only ask and I will do whatever I can.

Once again, Nicole, thank you for your skill, patience, immeasurable knowledge and guidance. You amaze me with your ability to figure out a "better" way to solve a problem for each individual, human and dog.




Karen Vanelli

"Brinkley"& Debi

The training I received from Custom Canines taught me how to work with my service dog, Brinkley, for maximum stability and support. The training also included safety for both Brinkley and I. It was so easy to learn from Nicole that it didn't feel like work at all!

I now have a 100% confidence in my ability to manage Brinkley in order to meet my needs, and this in turn has given me more independence than I have had in many years.

Nicole's expertise has shown me that there is much more to learn, and I look forward to that growth relationship with Brinkley and Custom Canines. Thank you so much for everything Nicole.



"Pilot" &  Ron

May 2014


Dear Nicole:


With Pilot as my new helper this past month, I have had some time to reflect.


Having had a wonderful service dog who died, missing the incredible help he provided, and trying unsuccessfully to find the right dog to meet my needs, I am overwhelmed by the way Guide Dogs of the Desert, Custom Canines Service Dog Academy, and you personally, Nicole, all came together to bring the benefit of mobility and the joy of canine companionship into my life again.


Pilot, a beautiful black Labrador, means all of that and so much more to me. Physically and emotionally, Pilot has restored much of the life I enjoyed before my four back surgeries and resulting complications set in.  To me it is a “God Thing.”

All of the donors and volunteers, the breeders, puppy raisers, trainers, Bob Wendler (who played such a major role in our meeting you) and the way you trained Pilot for my particular needs.


I do have some mixed emotions. My heart goes out to the many blind people who need and deserve a guide dog. I understand that it was in the final stages of guide dog training when it was decided Pilot would make a better service dog than guide dog. That loss was a great gain to me. And I think it was a great gain for Pilot as well, to not have all of the time, effort, and finances that were placed in his training wasted. They are now still bearing rich fruit, giving him a mission in life, just in another direction. I love the way you said one time that, “Pilot has a high calling,” meaning that he helps to serve my needs as I serve others in our ministry.


And serve he does! We have been in stores and restaurants. He goes to church and walks the aisle with me during communion. He fits right into the different meetings and gatherings I have attended. And my doctor and her nurses think he is the greatest. And it feels so good to give my power chair and walker a rest most of the time.


Tonight, just before writing this, I had to get on my hands and knees to fix something. Pilot stood like a rock as I leaned on his withers and rump to enable me to get up. Day after tomorrow he will lie quietly in a corner while I have my teeth cleaned.


Thanks to you, Nicole, and all the ones I mentioned above, Pilot helps to enable and brighten my life.


Yes, it is a God Thing!


"Ron Meets His Pilot"

click here...

By: Joseph Moore

"Iris" & Olivia

I have three children and my youngest, Olivia just turned nine. She has autism and is non-verbal. As with any child, a mother can only wish that her child have a happy, healthy, and safe life. However, with a diagnosis of autism that has been quite difficult, up until Iris. Iris is her service dog, a sweet standard poodle that has changed Olivia’s life as well as our whole families. After a very thorough evaluation and perfect match by Custom Canines, Olivia and Iris are an amazing team that surprises me every day.  Prior to Iris, we were unable to take Olivia shopping, out to eat, watch her siblings play sports, go to church, stand and talk with people, or just overall have a social life.  We were very isolated and any social events were very difficult and stressful. Iris has provided the service of tethering, which allows Olivia to walk independently and not have to hold someone’s hand.  This empowers Olivia and takes away the sensory component that a majority of the time prevents her from tolerating different environments. Olivia also has poor safety awareness and it is always my fear that she would run into the street or unsafe situation. However, with her tethered to Iris I can rest assured that she is safe.


This feeling of peace as her parents is a huge relief. Iris also has a very calming sense about her that Olivia is very in tuned with and allows her sensory system to tolerate events/situations that before were just too difficult for her to endure.Since having Iris:– We can go run an “every day” errand to a store and fill up a cart without a second thought! I wouldn’t have even dreamed to attempt this prior to Iris.– We can go and watch her sibling’s events and make it through the whole game without stress and Olivia is even being able to enjoy the game and cheer for her siblings!– We can stand and talk with people and Olivia waits patiently and usually is a part of the socializing!– We can go out to eat as a family!– She was able to go school shopping with her grandma to the mall, just like all of her other cousins. She was able to try on clothes for the first time in the dressing room!– She is able to enjoy & participate in “kids talk” during church services!– We were able to sit in the FRONT row at Christmas Eve service and make it enjoyable through the entire service!– She is able to take Iris with her to school and have much easier transitions during the day, increased ability to focus on her work, increased peer interactions, and overall pride.It seems as though I could go on and on about all of the positives Iris has provided Olivia and our family. This dog has truly changed our lives. There is not one day that goes by that I don’t have this thought. The pride, confidence, and overall happiness that Olivia has gained with her new ability to participate in the world is priceless.Iris has also given Olivia the opportunity to interact with other people. It is difficult for others to know how to interact with someone who is non-verbal. Now people, strangers, will come up to Olivia and initiate conversation with her about her “beautiful dog” and ask her questions.


Olivia just beams and feels connected to this world.  Olivia has many medical issues and Iris has that “sixth sense” to comfort her during those times of medical procedures, frustration and pain. And even in times where Olivia can not participate in, she is NOT alone and has Iris. She has a companion that allows her dad and I more time to spend together. Olivia has also been able to fall asleep with Iris without us having to stay in her room until she is asleep. This has a huge impact and allows us to spend some time with our other children. She also has slept better than she ever has without using supplementation.As with any special needs child, there is also a huge financial burden. Many of the therapies that help Olivia are NOT covered by insurance. A service dog that is free is truly amazing and has been one less financial stress that we have not had to face. We are so thankful for this.We have only had Iris for 1 year’s time and the impact she has made in such a short time is amazing! Custom Canines and all that they do are amazing! As I mentioned earlier, parents can only dream that their children can have a happy, healthy, and safe life. Iris, through Custom Canines, has truly helped make this a reality!


Sincerely, Katie

....from Susan

My experience with Custom Canines Service Dog Academy, and our Autism Service Dog is each dog is trained especially for that child. Early connection for child and dog is vitally important, because each child’s needs having Autism is so different. That is why there is a spectrum of children. One major thing I experienced with not only my child of Autism but also with others who are now in the program is the fantastic connection I witnessed each and every time that child and puppy meet. One of the common denominators that all our children on the spectrum of Autism has is a lack of social skills, which includes communication skills.


Unbelievably, once the child has connected with a puppy, and puppy connected with child, the magic begins. That child just opens up and begins to communicate in ways, we as parents have never seen! And the adventure begins!Training of an Autism Service Dog will begin with a personalized evaluation in which our Program Director, Marlene Morga, comes to the family’s home to get a feel of how a dog would benefit and fit into the client’s lifestyle. She not only has the task of getting an idea on how the child could benefit with a specially trained service dog, but she also acts as the dogs advocate, making sure the dog is in a safe and caring environment. Then it is up to the parents to work, along side Marlene, in the training process to get the client’s dog in tip top shape to cover the individual needs. Again, with my experience in working with Marlene in this process, it has been a great learning experience, because my main focus is the end results. Having a great Service Dog for my son. Many ask what an Autism Service Dog can do.


The dog can become a weighted blanket when our children become over stimulated with whatever sensory issue arises. The dog can be an anchor if one of our children dart out into traffic and crowds. The dog can be specially trained to search for the child when our children becomes lost and confused. But most of all, the Service Dog becomes the client’s companion – bringing out skills that we as parents only dream of.One very important thing about our Autism Service Dogs is that they are an aide, not a babysitter for our children. I have seen them do magic right before my eyes. But we as parents need to respect these special dogs for the job they do for our special children – as just an aide to help our children become independent and these dogs need us parents as their advocates, just as much as our children need us, in order to make this whole program work to it’s full potential. Once the process begins with Custom Canines Service Dog Academy, we all are there for each other. One big happy family….” from Susan"

"Hannah" & Claudia

“Having Hanna allows our family the opportunity to do normal things like go to the grocery store, the park, or zoo and allow Claudia to participate. For her safety and because of Claudia’s dangerous nature of running away, we had to either avoid almost all normal situations like this, hire someone to help us, or sadly leave her out from participating. With Claudia tethered to Hanna, there is no struggle any more. She is happy to be walking with Hanna and understands that fleeing is not an option. She is also much calmer and genuinely seems at peace because she isn’t being dominated by her impulses. She’s so proud of herself and grateful to Hanna. It’s such an amazing thing, we are so blessed that Hanna is here for us. A special thank you to Custom Canines!” 


~ Charlotte~

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