Pups with Purpose
Yvette Brooks-Grant, age 11 visits some very unique working dogs.

Imagine you are in a wheelchair and you drop the book you're reading on the floor, and you can't bend over to pick it up - What would you do? Get a canine companion! Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) is an organization that provides young dogs for handicapped children and adults.

logo There are three types of dogs trained by the CCI.
  1. Service Dogs: They do tasks for people with physical disabilities, such as pulling a wheelchair or paying for something.
  2. Hearing Dogs: These dogs assist deaf or hearing-impaired people by alerting them to sounds, such as a smoke alarm or a baby's cry.
  3. Social Dogs: These dogs assist people with developmental disabilities and provide what is known as pet-facilitated therapy, which builds social confidence for the patient.
The CCI trains mostly Golden Retrievers, 
Labrador retrievers, and Pembroke Welsh Corgis. 
(Corgis are used mostly as hearing dogs.)
obstacle course

Most of the CCI puppies come from their own California-based breeding program. Occasionally mixed breeds are also introduced into the program.

At about 8 weeks of age the puppies are put in volunteer puppy-raiser homes for 14 to 17 months. During that time, the puppies are socialized and taken as many places as possible with the puppy-raiser, like to school, to the mall and onto buses.

They're also taken to special CCI training classes. During these classes the dogs do many agility exercises to build the confidence of the dogs. It also increases the dog's awareness of their own bodies so that when they are required to maneuver around in a china shop, they won't end up smashing everything in sight! After this period, the puppies are sent to one of CCI's regional training centers for 8 months of advanced training.

From there, the dog and the person who will eventually own the dog go through Team Training, an intensive 2 to 3 week training session. During this training, the students learn the commands to tell their companions, and how to take care of them. In order to graduate from Team Training, students must pass daily quizzes, a final written test, and a working examination in a public place.

One Saturday morning, Beck Underwood and I drove out to visit the CCI Training Center in Farmingdale, Long Island. It looked like it would be fun to be a puppy raiser. In a training class, the puppies went through an obstacle course with hoops to jump through, shaky bridges to walk across, and tunnels to crawl through. They also had a very interesting obstacle course called "The Weave Poles." This was a row of metal poles the puppies had to weave back and forth through. (A dog must be aware that its tail can have an effect on things around it.)

barney & fridge barney&desk

We also met with trainer, Ellen Torop. She has trained dogs of all types for many years, but decided to work with CCI about 4 years ago. She says it makes her feel she can use her talents to really help others. She introduced us to Barney, one of her favorite graduates. He could open refrigerator doors by pulling on a towel around the handle, and jump up on counters to help pay for things. He was originally a stray and has really become an inspiration.

At the training center they keep ferrets around 
so the dogs will become used to such distractions.

We talked with some of the puppy raisers, like 12 year old Lauren Gehrig, whose dog, Hot Dog II, was recently found to be not eligible as a canine companion because of having bad hips. So she and her family are going to keep the dog and try raising another puppy. Though they love Hot Dog, they were actually disappointed that their dog would not be helping someone in need.

pup & kid
Is giving a dog up hard on the raisers?

The overwhelming response was YES, but they also know that these are very special pups with purpose.

For more information about Canine Companions for Independence write to:
The Northeast Training Center P.O. Box 205, Farmingdale, NY 11735-0205, or call 516-694-6938.

Yvette Brooks-Grant has a room full of pets (including a snake and a frog!) and hopes one day to become a dog trainer or maybe a veterinarian. Check out her article about The Animal Medical Center!

- first published in the May/June 1993 issue of ZuZu

photos this page by Yvette & Beck


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