Service dogs can save someone’s life. A trained canine, for example, can detect if its owner has low or high blood sugar and will warn the person to take a particular action.
Santa Clarita-based Cornerstone Companions is responsible for training animals that provide such services, and founder Britany Morano told The Signal in a recent phone interview that while she started her nonprofit in 2017, she’s been training service dogs for more than 20 years.
“Our mission statement is helping dogs, helping people, restoring hope and changing lives,” Morano said.
But it all started with animals.
Morano grew up on her grandparents’ farm in Ohio where she worked and played with horses, cows, pigs and chickens. She later came to California and worked in the movie industry as an animal trainer and wrangler, handling exotic animals like lions and tigers. But that lasted about five or six years, she said, when tragedy hit.
“I ended up having some life circumstances with a family friend who was, unfortunately, injured in a motorcycle accident and became quadriplegic,” Morano said. “We’d lived together, and so, I noticed how the dogs would naturally gravitate toward him and help him not only physically, but emotionally and mentally as well.”
Morano pointed out that, unlike an emotional support animal that offers emotional and mental support only, a service dog is identified by the Americans with Disabilities Act as a dog that’s skillfully trained to mitigate one’s disability with a task.
In the case of the animal that’s trained to detect if its owner has low or high blood sugar, he or she will make certain moves to notify its owner.
“So, the dog will paw at the person’s leg to let them know that there’s an issue,” Morano said. “And then the dog will sit if the blood sugar is high or lay down if it’s low.”
Before Morano learned how to train dogs to provide these services, she saw how animals could play a critical role in assisting humans. Her own son was born prematurely and her dog at the time was very keyed into the baby’s issues.
“At 26 weeks, (my son) was only 1 pound, 14 ounces,” Morano told The Signal. “And he came home with apnea and bradycardia and a breathing machine, and he had to have oxygen and would quit breathing at times and turn blue. And the monitor, you know, would go off and my dog, before the monitor would go off, would always come over and wake me up or nudge me or go to the baby. She would make some kind of indication. She knew.”
Morano understood then that her experience with animals on the farm and animals in the movie industry could be used for a higher purpose.
“And so, I was like, ‘I think I could be the bridge (between the dog and those in need),’” she said. “I went and I researched some schools, and I started apprenticing, and I started reading everything I could about service dog training. And then I went to a woman who was really well known in San Diego with Little Angels Service Dogs — Katie Gonzalez — and she’s written books and things like that. And so, she agreed to be my mentor.”
Morano discovered that Gonzalez’s Little Angels trained service dogs down south, and that the next place like that in the state was in San Francisco. She saw a need for such a service in the Los Angeles area, and she spent two years with Gonzales to learn what it would take to start something of her own.
Soon after, Cornerstone Companions was born and it began serving the community by placing trained service dogs with individuals in need. Her dogs provide mobility assistance, psychiatric assistance, autism assistance, medical alert for people surviving with diabetes and epilepsy, and more. The goal, Morano added, is to always offer these dogs at no cost to those in need of a service animal.
“All of our efforts,” she said, “are done through grants, fundraising and donation opportunities from local individuals and businesses in our community.”
Cornerstone helps the community, Morano continued, by rescuing dogs from shelters, reducing the number of dogs that are euthanized.
“We are also in discussion with local businesses and organizations in our community to provide educational and volunteer opportunities,” Morano said, “as well as enrichment for students and civilians in organizations like Girl (Scouts) and Boy Scouts, as well as rehabilitation programs for those who are incarcerated or recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol or homelessness.”
For more information, to donate, help in other ways or to find upcoming events, including fundraisers, go to CornerstoneCompanions.org.