UPDATE!!! Congratulations to Chris and Porthos — Chris won the run-off election for Denver City Council in June 2019. We look forward to his work to make Denver a city for all.
In the coming months, Denver residents may be hearing a lot about Chris Hinds — and seeing photos of Chris with his service dog, Porthos, a full yellow lab male. Chris is running for Denver City Council, District 10, which includes much of Capitol Hill, Cherry Creek, and parts of downtown, including the Art and History museums. The elections are scheduled for May 7th, 2019 — coincidentally, Chris’s birthday.
A decade ago, in 2008, Chris was riding home from taking photos at the Democratic National Convention when his motorcycle was hit, and he sustained a T3 spinal cord injury. Five years later, when he was doing rehabilitation for a complication of the injury at Craig Hospital, he worked with long-time puppy raiser Jeni Exley.
“Have you ever considered getting a service dog?” she asked.
Chris wasn’t interested. He already had a dog and knew what training involved. Besides, his dog Kaya “had figured out that as long as she stayed out of reach of the wheelchair I couldn’t get to her.” Also, he said, “I am a strong, independent person, and I didn’t know if I was disabled enough.” But Jeni explained that a goal of CCI is to extend the independence and mobility of people. In Chris’s case, he has control of his arms and shoulders, so protecting them from injury is important. The idea percolated, and by November of 2016, he was at team training.
In his first exposure to the dogs being rotated through, Chris wondered “Where’s the dog? They sort of walked around like robots. But the next day, they came in with their vests off and were like different animals — actually dogs instead of service animals.” Chris left incredibly impressed with CCI’s training and vetting process, resulting in dogs that really want to work. “With Porthos, I grab the vest and his tail starts wagging and he turns into a worker.” Originally, Chris didn’t think that Porthos would be the one I was getting.” He laughed. “This just shows that the CCI team trainers know more about the right dog than the person themselves does.”
Now a disability services advocate, Chris first got involved with advocacy while in middle school. Our school had a “WORD Club” (for War On Rampant Drugs) but to join you had to take a drug test. At that point, in the late 1980s, drug tests had a 10-15% false positive rate. Chris started a petition, got signatures from more than two-thirds of the students, and made it into the news. “Nothing happened, but it showed me that working within the system can create awareness.”
These days, Chris is working within the system to create awareness for not only the disabled, but for the rest of Denver’s citizens. There is an old saying that “For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost, for want of a horse the rider was lost, for want of a rider the battle was lost, for want of the battle the kingdom was lost… all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” For Chris, the “horseshoe nail” in Denver is its sidewalks.
For Chris, sidewalks are a social equity issue. Unless the sidewalks are good, the neighborhoods aren’t strong. Neighbors don’t meet each other. Currently, Chris noted, nearly a quarter of Denver’s streets have no sidewalks, and 40% has sidewalks that are narrower than three feet wide. Pedestrians keep getting hit by cars, and Chris noted that from 2012-2014, the city of Denver invested zero dollars in sidewalks.
It is an issue that affects issues ranging from neighborhood cohesiveness to food access to crime rates. And crumbling, inadequate or missing sidewalks don’t just affect the disabled, they affect everyone. Even in neighborhoods that are not food deserts, if a person needs, or wants, to walk to get food, there must be adequate sidewalks. Capitol Hill, Chris pointed out, has grocery stores, but the sidewalks are in such bad shape that it makes it difficult for people to use them. The residents, he notes, “would have greater access to the grocery stores if the sidewalks were properly maintained. It would be easier to walk in the dark without tripping and easier to get groceries home because one could easily roll groceries in a cart.”
In terms of safely, Chris said that he was within a block of his home one day when he was forced off the sidewalk, in his wheelchair, by four cyclists… cyclists who happened to be Denver Police. “If Denver’s finest feel unsafe where they should be, we need to get our priorities straight. We must prioritize our basic infrastructure. The City Council, along with the Mayor, sets priorities for Denver and its budget.” That, he knew, was where he could make the greatest impact.
For now, Chris said to tell your friends that there is someone who will work to make Denver a better place. Contributions are much appreciated, and there is a link at the Chris for Denver website: https://chrisfordenver.com At this stage of the campaign, donations are often a marker of whether someone is a serious candidate. In the future, if people would like to help, he would love volunteers to knock on doors.
This article first appeared in PeEmail, the on-line newsletter for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Canine Companions for Independence.