Four months on a bike for CPL

It was billed  as “Onyx’s Great Adventure” for the group called Team Ronyx. Ron Storms and his black Labrador retriever Onyx spent four months bicycling from the Pacific Coast of Oregon to Cochranville to benefit Canine Partners for Life.

The team, which also included Storms’ friend Meghan Schreiner and her dog Phoenix, raised more than $15,000 for CPL during the 2,900-mile bike ride across the country. They arrived at Canine Partners for Life in Cochranville Sunday afternoon after leaving Lincoln, Ore. on March 9. They had been planning the trip for five years.

The idea was to raise money and awareness about the need for service dogs. Storms, who is originally from West Chester and lived in Quarryville before moving to the West Coast, said he wanted to make the trip because his aunt was disabled. He said she could have had more independence if she had a service dog.

Pat Peters and her service dog Sargent wait to greet Team Onyx at the CPL campus.

The four-month-long road trip was relatively uneventful, Storms said. The worst things, he said, were the 60 mph headwinds they encountered in Nebraska and some impatient motorists who didn;t like riding behind the team.

“We actually had to pedal downhill. If we didn’t pedal, we would have been blown backwards. It took us nine hours to go 30 miles,” he said. "I'd bike back if it weren't for traffic."

Onyx might be glad for that. Storms said the dog would rather run, jump and play rather than be in the trailer for 3,000 miles. And when it was hot, Onyx wanted to ride in the air conditioned truck.

There were no negative incidents along the way, but Storms said there was one touching moment in Wyoming. An older woman who recently had eye surgery approached him after she saw the signs on the team’s follow-truck.

“She came up to me and gave me a big hug and said, ‘If I had the energy, I’d bike with  you. Here, this is all I have,’ and handed me a crumpled $5 bill,” Storms said.

While Storms pedaled, Onyx rode in a small trailer towed by Storms.

When the team arrived at the CPL campus on Fagg Manor road in Cochranville, it was met with cheers from several dozen employees, volunteers and  disabled people who owe their independence to the dogs they got through Canine Partners for Life.

Pat Peters, from Exton — with her black lab Sargent — said she was most appreciative  of the work CPL does. She was matched with Sargent by CPL two years ago. Sargent helps her with her mobility issues, acting as a counter balance for her. He also picks up things she has dropped.

“We’re a good match,” she said of her life with Sargent. “CPL works to get a good match.”

Of course, the staff and board of Canine Partners for Life was  also appreciative of Storms efforts.

The follow-truck helped raise awareness about the need for service dogs for people with disabilities.

Board member Walter Griffitts said CPL is in the middle of a capital campaign to raise $3 million for a new training building at the campus. The current training barn has no windows or skylights, no natural light gets in and there are no bathroom facilities for the humans. The new building would not only rectify that situation but would also have a mock apartment to help accustom the dogs to working in a real-life environment.

He said they don’t want to go into debt for the new training barn but want to bring in 70-80 percent of the $3 million before getting approval and starting the work.

CPL Executive Director Janie Cramer said she’s hoping that Onyx’s Great Adventure and the awareness it has raised will lead to more money coming in as well as more volunteers.

When asked why there seems to be a preponderance of Labradors used as  service dogs, Cramer said the black and yellow labs tend to have the right disposition for the job. “They’re eager to please,” she said.

They’re also large enough to help people with balance issues. She added that sometimes poodles and golden doodles are used for people who have allergies to dog dander.

It costs $30,000 to train, feed and care for a dog — including veterinary services — for the two to two-and-a-half year training period.

To donate or to learn more about Canine Partners for Life, visit https://k94life.org

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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