Service dogs are no longer just helping the visually impaired. Whether conducting search and rescue, sniffing for bombs and drugs at airports, or assisting with tasks of daily life, service and therapy dogs are at work every day. A service dog is specifically trained to help people who have disabilities: visual, hearing, PTSD, seizures, ambulatory issues, mental illness, diabetes, autism, and more. Sometimes these special animals are trained to pull a wheelchair, to calm a person with post traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack or even remind a person with a mental illness to take prescribed medications. Service dogs are invaluable help to the people in need. But who trains the service dog?
To Lesley Moran of Berryville, animals have been her life’s passion. As a small girl she loved horses, dogs, cats, everything. Moran has been affectionately called Doctor Doolittle by those who know her best; she plays Mom to a menagerie of animals that recently included a pet white tail deer. A certified horse dentist and trainer, Moran can now add service dog trainer to her list of accomplishments.
Two years ago, Moran enrolled in the CCI (Canine Companions for Independence) program to rigorously train a puppy for 12 to 18 months. CCI breeds Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers , crossing the two breeds for optimum temperament and trainability, and turns them over to the safe hands of the puppy raisers. Puppies are taught basic commands and socialization skills. It’s difficult at first – puppies are up several times a night. The puppy raiser gets no sleep.
“The puppy raisers are really the backbone of our organization, and we couldn’t serve without them,” said John Bentzinger, a CCI public relations staffer, “The socialization is perhaps the most important, because dogs need to be exposed to any and all types of surroundings.”
After that time, the dog is returned to the regional headquarters for a 6-month advanced training course. Then comes placement with a special needs person. Only four of ten dogs actually make it through the program. “We take only the cream of the crop—our standards are second to none.” said Bentzinger.
On May 15, Moran’s dog Kade II officially graduated from the CCI Northeast region headquarters in Medford New York. Lesley Moran will hand over the leash to the new owner, Eddie Fox from Horsham Pa. For Eddie, this will be his second dog from CCI; his first one has been retired, but is still living with the family.
“This has been tremendously fulfilling, one of the single most rewarding things I’ve ever done” said Moran. “I know the dog will always be cared for and CCI will constantly check on the dog,” she said. “Knowing that Kade will be serving someone who needs help puts a smile on may face!”
Canine Companions for Independence was founded in 1975. It is the largest non-profit provider of assistance dogs and is recognized worldwide for excellence of its dogs, and the quality & longevity of its matches between dogs and people. The organization is headquartered in Santa Rosa, California.