They just met this month, but Andrew Pike, a wounded Iraq war veteran, and Yazmin, a 2-year-old black Labrador, are pals.
They?re going to be partners for years to come, with Yazmin, a trained service dog who responds to 40 verbal commands, making Pike?s life in a wheelchair a little easier.
?I didn?t know you could get attached to a dog so quickly,? said Pike, 23, a former Army specialist paralyzed from the waist down by a sniper?s bullet two years ago in Iraq.
Pike, who lives in Kimberly, Idaho (population 2,477), and Yazmin will graduate on Saturday along with 11 other disabled person-and-dog teams trained at Canine Companions for Independence in Santa Rosa.
The nonprofit founded here in 1975 has trained more than 3,200 dogs to assist disabled children and adults, including 44 service veterans.
Pike, who works as a substitute teacher and is attending a community college, said Yazmin will help him gain independence.
Should he drop his wallet, keys or even a credit card on the ground, on the command ?get? Yazmin will retrieve it.
Told to ?pull,? the obedient Lab, fitted with a harness, will tow Pike in his non-motorized wheelchair if his hands are full.
Commanded to ?tug,? she will pull open a door with a rope attached to the handle.
The dogs, raised in volunteers? homes, are trained by the agency for six to nine months, and ? if deemed suitable for the work ? paired with disabled people for two weeks of team training.
?The more I get to know her, the more I get her personality, what she likes and doesn?t like,? Pike said. ?She?s getting to know the same about me.?
Yazmin has met Pike?s wife, Tauni, and 2-year-old daughter, Brynlee, who came out to Santa Rosa. At their home in Idaho, she?ll meet the family?s pair of Yorkshire terriers, which together weigh about five pounds.
?I don?t foresee any problems there,? Pike said.
Canine Companions uses Golden retrievers and black and yellow Labradors, intelligent, even-tempered breeds that have a yen to please people, said the agency?s Jeanine Konopelski.
The dogs perform physical chores for disabled people, serve as ?skilled companions? to disabled children, as hearing dogs for deaf people and as ?facility dogs? working in hospitals and schools.
Pike was on a foot patrol with the 82nd Airborne near Tikrit on March 26, 2007, just 30 meters from his compound, when he was felled by a single shot that passed through his abdomen.
?I was flat on my back trying to figure out what happened,? he said.
He heard about Canine Companions at a Veterans Affairs clinic last year and applied for a canine partner. Determined to live a full life, Pike has climbed rocks and is practicing with the coach of the U.S. Paralympic archery team.
He?s inspired by what some disabled people can do, including a paralympic archer who lost his lower right arm and holds the bow in his left hand, pulling the string with his teeth.
?I may live in a chair; my life may be different,? Pike said. ?But it won?t stop me from doing anything I want to do.?
With Yazmin, he has both an enabler and a friend with a wet nose and wagging tail.