We learned all about the miracle of service dogs at the New York Mobility Club last night…and it was fascinating! These incredible canine companions really do help adults and children with disabilities to live more independent lives. They assist, day and night, in the most practical of ways.
Yvonne Dagger, President of the Long Island Chapter of Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) and an experienced puppy raiser, demonstrated with 5-month old puppy in training, Dagger. He sported a smart-looking yellow CCI jacket showing that he’s still in training.
It takes about a year to train the dogs. The puppy raisers are volunteers who live and work with them to get them ready for service. CCI uses treats (and lots of praise) to motivate and teach the commands. Eventually, the dogs do the commands just for the “Good Boy!” praise of their human partner.
Once they make it through the first level of training, the dogs know how to execute about 30 commands. They can turn on and off lights, open and close doors, pick up dropped keys and credit cards (or anything else), help with clothing, push buttons for elevators and automatic doors, pull their human partner’s manual wheelchair, assist with business transactions…and so much more. They’re also taught to “Speak” very loudly on command if additional help is needed.
CCI has found that people and businesses generally understand the need for service animals. And the Americans With Disabilities Act guarantees people with disabilities the right to be accompanied by a service animal in all areas open to the public.
Canine Companions for Independence specially breeds their dogs so that their temperament is just right to serve. All the dogs in their program are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, or a mixed breed of the two.
At last night’s meeting, a graduate team of Vincent, his canine companion Stetson, and mom Mary Kay also shared their story. The blue CCI jacket that Stetson dons tells everyone that he’s an assistance dog. Vincent explained that candidates hoping to receive a CCI service dog must complete a two-week educational course at a regional center. They learn how to work with the dogs and share their lives. They’re matched up with the perfect canine for their needs and personality.
The dogs who make it through the advanced training program know up to 50 commands. And they can be taught specialized commands as needed. For instance, Vincent wanted Stetson to be able to cover him back up when the sheets fell away from him over night so that he didn’t have to call out to his mom each time. And you can bet that Stetson delivers every time.
Service dogs not only assist with physical tasks. They also provide companionship and social support. Vincent told us that he “never feels alone” because of Stetson. We could see that the bond between the dog and human partner goes very deep.
The dogs are always at the ready to assist their companion. They lay or sit quietly by their side waiting to serve as commanded. Some of us were wondering if they ever get to be off-duty and “just be dogs.” They have a special command for that, too. Vincent told Stetson to “Release” and he instantly jumped up and made his way around to say hello to our Mobility Club members, wiggling away and with a happy grin on his face. Then all it took was “Stetson” and he was back by his human partner’s side. You just have to say “wow” when you see these dogs in action!
Not every dog graduates from the CCI training program. In fact, only about 40% complete the training and are placed in homes for service. That’s because the organization has extremely high standards, knowing that these special dogs must be 100% reliable for their human partners. The dogs who don’t graduate are adopted as super smart pets. You can imagine the long waiting list to adopt them!
It costs about $45,000 to train and care for these service dogs. But amazingly, they’re provided at no cost to recipients who qualify. The company is funded by private contributions from individuals and businesses, grants from foundations and corporations, and fundraising activities.
If you’re in or near Suffolk County, New York, consider stopping by CCI’s 2nd annual “Wag n’ Wheels” event on Saturday, June 8th (11am-3pm) at Smithtown Scion. There will be service dog demonstrations, fine arts & crafts, raffles, vendors, food & refreshments, and lots of fun for the whole family. We hear the pie-eating contest is tons of fun.
A little piece of etiquette to keep in mind: When you see a service dog, he or she is diligently working. So it’s best not to rush over and say “how cute” and get him all riled up. Instead, ask the human companion if it’s ok to say hello to their dog.
Canine Companions for Independence
was founded in California in 1975, and is now the largest assistance dog organization in the world. Their motto is “Exceptional Dogs for Exceptional People.”
The New York Mobility Club is a free community service held the second Wednesday of each month at
Bussani Mobility Team
, 401 Middle Country Road, Smithtown, NY.