June 07. 2004
New York Times
AT graduation day last month at Canine Companions for Independence, there were few dry eyes, but quite a few wet noses. Eight people with disabilities received their diplomas and, more importantly, their assistance dogs after completing a two-week training course.
Since 1975, C.C.I. has placed more than 2,100 dogs with adults and children who have a range of physical and developmental disabilities, though not blindness. All dogs come from the organization's breeding program, and spend their first 18 months with volunteer puppy raisers. The dogs then receive six to nine months advanced training at C.C.I. before graduating to become service dogs.
The following are observations from two people with disabilities who go about their everyday lives with help from C.C.I. dogs, and two puppy-raising teams composed of mothers and daughters. More information can be found at www.cci.org.
J. P. LadyHawk Freeman, 53, a former lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, was medically retired in 1994 after learning she had multiple sclerosis. As her condition worsened, she applied for a dog and was teamed with Scarlett in February.
The two lead an active life in Colorado Springs, dividing time among Ms. Freeman's duties as a substitute teacher, a Red Cross volunteer and a Congressional lobbyist and board member for the Paralyzed Veterans of America: Mountain States.
Though Scarlett performs essential tasks like turning on lights, picking up objects and handing a credit card to a cashier, Ms. Freeman says, she will also lay across her legs when they begin to spasm, shortening the intensity and duration of the attack. "She has not been trained to do that, she does it instinctively."
"When you have a challenge," Ms. Freeman said, "people look literally right across the top of you. Suddenly, with Scarlett, those who used to look across the across the top of me now see a live human being and a beautiful dog."
Eubie Hart-Hodges, 10, a bright fourth grader with a "big contagious smile," is known as the happiest student at her school in Wilmington, Del., said her mother, Verna Hart, 42, an artist and former art professor.
Though Eubie has spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, which limits the use of her limbs, her weekly routine includes roller-skating and training for the Special Olympics swimming team. Her dog, Galena, has been a constant companion since 2002.
"One of the best things I could have done was contact C.C.I.," said Ms. Hart, who has spent 10 years pursuing any treatment that will help her daughter "reach her highest potential." More than anything, though, Ms. Hart said, it is Galena who has changed Eubie's life.
"Galena made her a responsible person," Ms. Hart said of Eubie. "Instead of everyone being responsible for her care, she now has the responsibility for someone else's care." They have even taught Galena to play the piano. "We say 'solo' and she hits the keys."
Kim Furino, 16, spends a lot of time vacuuming up dog hair, but that is all part of her daily routine raising puppies with her mother, Pat, at their home in North Babylon, N.Y.
Kim is raising her second service dog, a puppy named Yarnell; her first, Judah, was placed with a 13-year-old boy. Though she knows returning the dog to C.C.I. is part of the program, it doesn't make it any easier. "It was very hard to give up Judah," Kim said. "I cried myself to sleep holding his toys." She said it has helped to have Yarnell, who is equally loveable.
"Kim is doing something that she likes and can be proud of," said Pat of her daughter's volunteer efforts. "You feel better about yourself when you give to other people. That's a big lesson."
Wendi Hartman, 15, of Fremont, Calif., is raising her third C.C.I. puppy, Shirley, but there is no shortage of golden-haired puppies in her home.
Wendi and her mother, Sue, are also breeders for the C.C.I. program, providing homes for puppies and their carefully-selected canine parents.
The family's association with C.C.I. has many rewards. Mrs. Hartman recalled the mother of the girl who received Wendi's last dog. "I was just in tears," Mrs. Hartman said.
"She was telling me her daughter knows she is different and has two
very social sisters who get a lot of attention from other kids. The fact
that she now has a dog has given her a real bright spot in her life."
Copyright © 2004, New York Times