North Texas has no shortage of Instagram-famous animals.
From Nelson the Goldendoodle cruising around downtown Dallas in his iconic Vespa sidecar to Bacon the Piglet frolicking through Fort Worth and Dallas Zoo denizens that, frankly, seem more #relatable than exotic: Insta-animals help us see our cities, and ourselves, through new perspectives.
That's one reason why you should follow Yoshi (@_yoshigram_), a Labrador-Golden Retriever cross that has just assumed post as facility dog for Daymark Living, a soon-to-open residential community for adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD).
When residents begin moving into the community in Waxahachie next month, Yoshi will be there to greet them. She recently moved in with and began coming into work every day with Daymark Living Director Molly Taylor. On Saturday, she joined the Daymark Social Club on one of its inaugural outings -- a game night at Klyde Warren Park.
Not all members of the Daymark Social Club will live on campus in Waxahachie. The club is open to anyone with IDD who is over 16 years old and looking for opportunities to experience fun, chaperoned outings throughout D-FW.
The idea is that members can have an opportunity go out -- sometimes for the first time, ever -- without parents or guardians. It's a way to meet peers, make friends and experience new levels of independence.
Past meet-ups have included cooking lessons at Central Market, an Earth Day hike at Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in Plano, trips to Dallas Symphony Orchestra concerts and TCU basketball games and tap-dancing lessons at Arts Fifth Avenue in Fort Worth.
Now, Yoshi will be along for the fun, too.
Yoshi has completed rigorous training as a recent graduate of Canine Companions for Independence, a national nonprofit organization that provides assistant dogs for free to individuals with physical and developmental disabilities.
CCI animals are divided into four categories: service dogs that assist in daily tasks -- like retrieving dropped items or opening doors -- for adults with physical disabilities; hearing dogs that alert individuals with hearing impairment to important noises; skilled companions that "enhance independence for children and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities;" and facility dogs that work in educational, criminal justice or healthcare settings, like Daymark Living.
Courtney Craig, CCI public relations and marketing coordinator, says most CCI dogs are equipped with more than 40 standard commands which can be further adapted to fit specific needs. Yoshi will provide companionship and confidence-boosting social duties in her new community.
Her main duties will likely include the commands "visit" -- where she places her head in a companion's lap -- and "lap" -- where she will place the entire top half of her body in someone's lap, Craig says. She'll spend most days lounging in the Daymark Living clubhouse, the heart of community social activity.
Founded in 1975, CCI opened its North Texas training center in Irving in 2015. It's one of six regional training centers across the nation that are bolstered by dozens of volunteer chapters that help raise awareness and funds.
Volunteers -- particularly Puppy Raisers -- are crucial to CCI's operating model.
The organization places puppies with foster families that provide food, medical care and basic necessities for about the the first two years of life. Puppy Raisers work closely with CCI to ensure the dogs are well-socialized and attend approved obedience classes.
Craig says these volunteers, and their willingness to incur early costs, are what make it possible for CCI to provide service dogs for free to people who need them. She says families with small children, retirees and college students have all provided good homes for future CCI service dogs.
"You don't have to know anything about dog training," she says. "Just provide a safe, loving home and we'll offer guidance along the way and teach you the rest."
At about 2 years old, dogs enter CCI's professional training program, and dogs that pass training and medical and temperament screenings are placed with individuals or facilities to serve. When the dogs are around 10 years old, they retire and spend remaining years as pets.
Animal lovers interested in volunteering as a Puppy Raiser can find requirements and application forms online at cci.org.