In 1975, the Canine Companions for Independence was founded in Santa Rosa, California. They placed their first service dog in the following year. By 1984, the organization celebrated placing their 100th service animal. Most recently, in 2008 the organization graduated its 3000th service dog. The organization has evolved and expanded to include a prison puppy raising program, four more regional offices and 2 satellite offices. Over 3,000 volunteers nationwide help to make this program a success.
Canine Companions Service Dogs
Dogs that become service dogs through Canine Companions for Independence go through a rigorous training program, and not every dog makes it through the process. The organization has breeders that provide golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers, as well as crosses of the two for the puppies that are used in the program.
Puppies are raised in foster homes as well as the prison puppy raising program. Individuals who raise puppies for CCI do so on a volunteer basis, and work hard to train the dogs before they are turned over to handlers during the team training phase of the CCI program.
Types of Service Dogs
CCI trains their dogs for four different types of service. These types are as follows:
- Service Dogs – a service dog can perform a number of activities, such as pulling an individual in a wheelchair and pushing elevator buttons for adult handlers. At the end of their training, these dogs can respond to 40 different commands, as well as providing social support for their handlers.
- Facility Dogs – a facility dog is used in educational settings, health care facilities or during visitations to help create a calm and secure environment for clients. Typical places where facility dogs work include classrooms for children with learning disabilities, training facilities for disabled athletes, and courtrooms to help alleviate stress for individuals testifying.
- Skilled Companions – skilled companion dogs are trained to perform activities such as picking up a pen from the floor, turning on lights and opening doors while under the guidance of facilitators. These dogs are companions for adults as well as children.
- Hearing Dogs - a hearing dog can signal to their handler that a doorbell has been rung, that someone is speaking to them and that a smoke alarm is going off. They are trained to respond to environmental sounds that deaf or hard of hearing adults cannot easily hear.
Applying for a Canine Companion
To obtain a CCI trained service dog, individuals may fill out an application that is available on the organization’s website. Once the application is received and the handler approved, they are placed on a waiting list for available dogs. Availability varies by category, and the length of time on a waiting list is dependent upon the number of dogs fully trained in each category. The dogs are offered free of charge to the handlers.
Once a dog becomes available, handlers are invited to attend a 2-week team training class. The dogs are fully trained prior to the beginning of the class. In order to be considered for placement, students must demonstrate that they can care for their service dog’s needs, manage the dog’s behavior and have the dog respond appropriately to the 40 commands they have been trained for.
Living with a Service Dog
After attending the CCI team training class, successful teams will graduate at a ceremony where the individual who raised the dog hands the leash over to the new handler. At this time, the new handler assumes financial responsibility for the care of the service animal, and agrees to attend follow up graduate training classes and evaluations with the organization.
CCI retains ownership of the service dog, so if at any time the handler is no longer able to provide for the care of the animal, it may be returned.