Dogs are often called humans’ best friends. Sometimes, they’re even more than that.
Since it was founded in 1975, Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) has helped people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs at no charge. Sundt Foundation’s support of the organization’s San Diego Chapter, one of 30 nationwide, has sponsored a training team for facility dogs. Facility dogs help people who are, for example, undergoing physical therapy by playing tug of war or assisting those who are recovering from surgery by providing support as they walk in the hospital.
Other CCI dogs turn on lights, pick up dropped keys, open doors, alert their partners when they hear sounds and work with people with special needs.
“These dogs touch many people,” said CCI Development Associate Joanna Mueller.
All of CCI’s support comes from private sources, including individuals, corporations and foundations. The Sundt Foundation gave a $3,300 grant to the organization last year.
CCI has its own breeding program, which only uses Golden Retrievers, Labradors or dogs who are a cross of both.
“They have the best combined temperament of pleaser and worker,” Joanna said. “We’ve worked with several types of dogs but this has been our best.”
CCI dogs spend their first eight weeks of life with their breeder/caretaker. At eight weeks, they are placed in the care of trusted volunteer puppy raisers, who spend the next 16 to 18 months teaching the dogs basic obedience and socialization and exposing them to different types of experiences such as riding escalators and taking airplane trips.
“We like to make sure the dogs are comfortable around a lot of people, especially kids,” Joanna said.
At about 18 months, the dogs are returned to the campus in Oceanside, California where they spend the next six to nine months in professional training, learning to open doors, turn on lights, pick up objects and recognize sounds.
CCI has a detailed application and interview process for people who will benefit from owning one of its dogs. There are phone interviews and a visit to campus to see how the person works with the animal. The process takes about six months before a person is put on the list for the program.
“We hear from a lot of parents with kids who have disabilities,” Joanna said. “The dogs help them build social bridges and create friendships. It’s an immediate impact. As soon as a person is matched with a dog, the dog becomes part of his or her life.”
This is the fifth in a series of stories about non-profit organizations that were supported by the Sundt Foundation in 2016. The articles will appear on our blog on Tuesdays through May 23.
April 11: Project Healing Waters
April 18: Restore Education
April 25: Reynolds Home