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Posts Tagged ‘Canine Companions for Independence’


Young black Lab Miss Dady and her CCI puppy-raiser, Rachel. CCI, or Canine Companions for Independence, was established in 1975. Founder Bonnie Bergin originated the concept of training Service Dogs to aid people with physical and developmental disabilities other than blindness. Before learning college-level canine skills, such as turning on light switches and pulling wheelchairs, CCI pups are placed in private homes where they are loved and trained by devoted puppy-raisers. Miss Dady is the 10th CCI puppy raised by Rachel. Photo by Laura Allen.

I spent Mother’s Day meeting a very special young black Labrador retriever named Miss Dady and reuniting with Rachel, the very special young woman raising her.

Miss Dady’s father, Baja, lived with us before we moved from California to Oregon. Rachel raised Baja, too. In fact, in the last decade, she’s raised 10 puppies for the Service Dog organization, Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). When we first met Rachel, she was in college and said her dream job would be working at CCI or someplace similar.

CCI was the first to train Service Dogs to aid individuals with physical and developmental challenges. These amazing dogs learn how to do things such as: pull wheelchairs; open and close doors and refrigerators; turn light switches off and on; alert hearing-impaired persons to a ringing phone, doorbell or danger; give money to a bank teller or store clerk.

Years ago, I worked for CCI. One of the things that always moved me the most was how, innately, these sensitive dogs knew how to reach into the heart and mind of a child with autism or a developmental disability when no human could.

Before CCI dogs learn these complex tasks, they need to enjoy happy childhoods, learn their manners and experience all kinds of real-life, real-world things. Where better to do so than in the homes of dog lovers? This successful model began in the 1940s when pups intended for training as guides for people with visual impairments were placed in the charge of youngsters as 4-H “projects.” Miss Dady is one of these CCI pups.

Cream-of-the-crop young dogs become part of the CCI breeding colony instead of being placed to work alongside specially-challenged individuals. These dogs, known as breeders, are housed with community members, or breeder caretakers, who live near the main CCI training/breeding site.

The late CCI breeder Baja lived with and loved us before we moved to another state. Baja had to remain behind with another CCI family in order to be close at hand for his "husbandly" duites at the CCI breeding site. Baja died last year at age five from a rare, but not genetic, kidney disease. He sired around 200 puppies with 40 currently working as CCI Assistance Dogs, five active in the CCI breeding program, and more than 100 with CCI puppy raisers. Some have made career changes and are working with Border Patrol and as Therapy Dogs. Photo by Rachel Sutton.

We were Baja’s breeder caretakers for only a few months: That was long enough for his brown-lipped smile, way-so-smart dark eyes, full-body wiggles; and scatter- everywhere yellow Labrador hair to become a part of our bank of treasured memories.

When we moved, our new home was too far away for Baja to remain with us: He had to stay near the CCI breeding facilities to be available for “dates” as needed. Baja went to live with another loving, CCI-approved family. As we bid him farewell at his new home, he and the gi-normous Newfoundlands residing there were doing the sniffing-each-other-and little-tail-wag dance. It was a very hard goodbye.

From time to time, we’d hear through Rachel or the CCI grapevine that Baja’s pups were exceptional: We’d smile and say, “No surprise!” It was Rachel who, last year, gave us the unexpected and sad news that Baja had died from a kidney condition that’s rare, especially in Labrador retrievers. Thankfully, it’s not hereditary, so Baja’s many pups are safe. Baja was only five years old.

Rachel, now living in Oregon, too, wanted us to meet Miss Dady, one of Baja’s last puppies, before she was returned to the California CCI site for her college-level training. What a treat to see a black, smaller, female version of Baja, all smiles and silly wiggles. We took our two Labs, Kobe and Brooke, along, so Rachel and Miss Dady could meet them. After all, Baja brought our dogs to us: He made us love Labs.

It was a delight to see the three Labs tearing around Rachel’s yard — together. Rachel, my husband, Jim, son, Adam, and I watched the 12-legged frolic. We had a good laugh on the dogs’ behalf; then we all grew silent. And thought of Baja.

Canine version of a chocolate Oreo. CCI youngster Miss Dady (on the right) isn't even winded after rough and tumble playtime with our two older Labs. Brooke's on the left, and Kobe's the center.

I’m sure Rachel’s thoughts leaped ahead to the day approaching when she would be saying goodbye to Miss Dady at CCI. Miss Dady’s will be the newest in the collection of  ceramic pawprints Rachel has arranged on a memory wall in her home. The gallery is meant as a reminder of the pups she’s raised. I also see it as the mark of an incredibly selfless person. Think about it: raising, loving, training 10 puppies into model dog “citizens,” knowing none are for you to keep: Intended, instead, to add ease, safety and devotion to the lives of individuals presented with special challenges.

Rachel had another treat in store for us: a personal tour of the nearby Guide Dogs for the Blind training facility. It was a Sunday, and not many people were there. But Rachel had a key: Because she works there now.

I’m partial to chocolate Labs, so I asked Rachel why there didn’t seem to be any represented in the years of Guide Dog photos on display at the center. She explained that Labradors used as Guide Dogs for the Blind are almost always black or a shade of yellow. But, she added with a smile as she reached for a puppy photo on a nearby desk, “Funny you should ask, because these two chocolates showed up in a litter just recently!" You can follow this link http://guidedogs.blogspot.com/2010/07/theres-chocolate-in-kennels.html to Guide Dogs for the Blind and read about the Hershey-kiss-colored surprises in an article titled, “There’s Chocolate in the Kennels!” Photo courtesy of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

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Our Mission: Strengthening Disaster Response in America

  • Founded in 1996, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Ojai, California.
  • Our mission is to strengthen disaster response in America by recruiting rescued dogs and partnering them with firefighters and other first responders to find people buried alive in the wreckage of disasters.
  • We offer the professionally trained canines and an ongoing training program at no cost to fire departments.
  • And we ensure lifetime care for every dog in our program: once rescued, these dogs never need to be rescued again.
  • There are currently 74 SDF-trained Search Teams located in California, Florida, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah.
  • Thanks to Mutual Aid Agreements between counties, cities and states, these precious, life-saving resources can be shared regionally and nationally.

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Learn more at: http://www.searchdogfoundation.org/


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