Sanders: Training to serve | TheFencePost.com

Sanders: Training to serve

Americans have big hearts and seem to find surprising ways to help others. Carol Drury of rural Sterling, Colo., has chosen puppy raising with Canine Companions for Independence as a way to give back.

At the first mention of a service dog, most people think of seeing-eye dogs, yet CCI, a nationwide volunteer group, facilitates the use of Service Dogs, Skilled Companions, Hearing Dogs and Facility Dogs, all of which also provide emotional and social support. Each Canine Companion assistance dog has the job of doing tasks that are physically hard or even impossible for the disabled teammate. Service dogs must have a steady temperament and problem-solving skills. CCI dogs wear blue and yellow official vests identifying them as authentic service dogs.

Service Dogs assist adults with daily activities allowing for a more independent lifestyle since dogs can do tasks such as turning on lights, picking up dropped items and other common needs. Skilled Companions work with children or adults, under the supervision of another member of the household or a caregiver when the disabled person does not live independently. Skilled Companions work with a facilitator as well as the person who needs assistance.

Hearing Dogs alert their keepers to ringing telephones, doorbells, appliance timers, fire alarms, burglar alarms and other sounds. Those who use American Sign Language can also teach signs to the dog. Facility Dogs are used in classrooms, nursing homes, and other professional environments and they are brought in for a minimum of 20 hours per week. The presence of the dog seems to produce a positive outlook in residents and patients. Canine Companions are used in various active ways from assisting with stretching exercises to providing balance for a person walking.

CCI gives members a Puppy Raisers Manual and offers classes on puppy raising. The manual reads much like a child development book with chapters on puppy personalities (insecure, assertive, excitable, dependent or independent), puppy development by age, feeding, health, safety, commands and socialization. Each puppy raiser is assigned a mentor for support.

After the initial training period each dog spends two weeks being tested for health and temperament. "He is being given preliminary tests to see if he is qualified to continue his education. They will want to see if he pulls too much on the leash, if he has anxiety about being alone in a kennel for long periods of time, is very vocal, or has other quirks that would disqualify him from continuing in the program," Drury said. "The job of a puppy raiser is to socialize the dog so they have to go where we go including church, restaurants and airplanes."

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Dogs are shipped from the headquarters at Santa Rosa, Calif., at CCI's expense. After that, the puppy raiser pays all of the dog's expenses including veterinary services, feed, and his return to California for the advanced and team classes. CCI retains ownership of the puppies and dogs until retirement. Dogs generally retire from service after seven or eight years and they are then offered back to the puppy raiser family.

Go to http://www.cci.org for further information. ❖