On 01.02.02, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Too late for surgery, I had chemotherapy, which failed. In May the chemotherapy was changed and I was soon in remission which was celebrated and welcome and lasted nine years - until October 2011. There was progression in 2011 so more treatment was indicated and I am now back in partial remission. But I'm not only a cancer patient - I also enjoy my family, walk my dogs and am learning to draw and paint. Life is good!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

My dog, my friend

Yesterday was graduation day within the Canine Companions for Independence community. There were five sites nationwide, each one offering well-trained service dogs to the disabled individuals who would benefit from their skills.

I attended the graduation in Santa Rosa, California where CCI is headquartered. There were actually three ceremonies rolled into one. The first part was when we got to meet the newly chosen breeder dogs. These are dogs that are so smart, so willing to work, so mellow and generally wonderful that CCI wants more like them!

Then came the procession of puppies, about 1-1/2 years old, who have been living with their puppy raisers since they were about eight weeks old. Now it was time to give them back to CCI to begin advanced training. So, for 16-18 months about 40 puppy raisers have been teaching the first 30 commands and developing a tight bond. It's heartbreaking to give up a dog you've grown to love -- probably the main reason why so many of us immediately request another and another.

The third part of the ceremony was the reason for the organization. The puppy raisers get to return to the puppy they raised and hand over the graduating dog to the recipient. After six to nine months of advanced training with the professional trainers the dogs now respond to 60 to 90 commands. They are awesome! It's a relatively small number of puppies that achieve that goal, maybe 20-30 percent. Most of the rest become beloved pets although a few are retrained by other agencies if their temperament matches those needs. For example, a dog with high prey drive would not make a good service dog but might be great in Search and Rescue. Many have become therapy dogs.

What's remarkable about CCI is that, while it costs about $15,000 to train one dog, there is no charge to the recipient to receive a dog. In the meantime, lives are changed. Dropped items are retrieved, doors opened, drawers pushed shut, alerts are given to phones and visitors, lights are turned on and hugs are freely offered. Each graduate dog has general skills and then finely tuned skills needed by a specific person. It's a wonderful program!

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