Dogs aid freedom, independence of disabled
By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer
Imagine dropping your keys as you are about
to open your door and having no way of picking them up because you are a
Next, imagine your faithful companion dog
retrieving them for you, and placing them gently in your lap.
This rare type of interdependence offers a
form of freedom for many people with disabilities.
Canine Companions for Independence (CCI),
formed in 1975, is a nonprofit national organization based in Santa Rosa,
Calif. It offers a way to exist in the world with more independence and
with a great deal more confidence.
There are four types of dogs trained for
placement. Hearing Dogs alert their owners to sounds such as telephones,
doorbells, and smoke alarms; Facility Dogs accompany professional
caregivers who work in physical therapy and rehabilitation. Skilled
Companion Dogs are for people with physical, developmental or emotional
disabilities. Service Dogs are for people with mobility challenges, most
frequently for those in wheelchairs.
The process starts with the breeders. The
Wood River valley has one CCI breeder, Ann Lucini Williams in Ketchum.
The breeders have been selected by CCI to
breed dogs solely for their ability to become one of the four types of
Dogs are bred for temperament, health and
intelligence. Most of the dogs are Lab and golden retriever mixes.
After being weaned, the pups are sent
through a puppy raising program in the home of a volunteer. The puppy
raiser is required to have a contained yard, be able to attend obedience
classes with the pup and take the dog along constantly.
Nationwide there are over 800 active
volunteer puppy raisers, 254 of them in the Northwest.
Williams is also a puppy raiser. Usually at
a rate of about once a year, with some overlap, she raises a dog to be
obedient and socialized in all areas of life. Thanks to the Americans with
Disabilities Act, the dog, which wears a yellow assistance puppy cape, is
allowed to accompany her almost anywhere she goes---into restaurants, onto
planes and into stores.
After a year or so with the puppy raiser,
the dogs are delivered to one of CCIís four training centers where the
dogs then go through advanced training to officially become a canine
Williams, who is both a local real estate
agent and a property manager, first became interested in this program when
she saw a woman at the Denver airport with a dog wearing the
Canine-Companion-in-training cape. Since that day over five years ago, she
has raised six puppies, one of whom became a breeder.
Nancy Foust, CCIís Northwest director,
called Williams a woman with many hats, including that of a board member
for the Northwest chapter of CCI and a tireless fund raiser.
At the moment, Carole, Williamsí golden
retriever and lab mix breeding dog, has just weaned eight pups, which
Williams then delivered by car (single handedly) to the training center in
Santa Rosa. Unlike Williams, Foust said, most breeders live within 100
miles of the training centers.
"Thatís very definitely called
loyalty," Foust said.
One pup from that litter, Alfre, she has
kept to raise until its time to go to advanced training. Williams also has
an eight-month-old named ML, who is still in training.
Only half the dogs bred, raised and trained
for CCI make it through to graduation, Williams said. Dogs that donít
become companions are offered back to the puppy raiser, or become
CCI has provided 919 dogs to disabled
people, solely through donations. There is no fee for the CCI dogs they
During an intensive, two-week course with
the dog, the prospective owner learns how to control the dog with voice
commands and to teach it tasks such as carrying a briefcase into the
office and then opening it or pulling a wheelchair from the side for those
who do not have the strength to propel their chairs.
In a video of the training process provided
by CCI, one of the final tests requires the wheelchair-bound owners and
their dogs to wait below a balcony. The devilish trainers then toss
hundreds of tennis balls down at them. Admirably, the dogs never move from
the sides of their owners.
The canine companions and their people
graduate in a moving public ceremony where the puppy raiser hands off the
leash and the companion dog to the new owner.
Each working pair of synergized dependents
is called a graduate team, and until a replacement dog is needed due to
retirement or death, they live together in the most communal of master/dog
The wait list to have a trained CCI dog is
three years, and recently the Northwest list was closed due to a serious
In December, through Williams, CCI was
awarded a grant from the Idaho Community Foundation. The $2,500 grant goes
directly to an Idaho canine companion recipient. Training costs nearly
$10,000 per dog before it is placed in a recipientís home.
"The more money we raise, the more
dogs we are able to put out," Williams said.
In that vein, Williams chairs a
fund-raising dinner and auction in Ketchum every October at the River Run
Lodge. Last yearís event raised over $28,000.
Opening doors, turning on the lights,
sitting still and obediently, no matter what temptation is thrown at them,
these dogs are more than just handy companions for people with
disabilities. They are miracles, whose presence enables confidence and
independence to flourish. And people like Annie Williams are the makers of