03 Aug 14

Assistance Dogs on Long Island ...

by Nancy E. Hassel, LIPetPlace.com

This week we celebrate International Assistance Dog Week, taking place August 3 – August 8, 2014 across the globe. Locally we are fortunate to have 3 different groups groups right here on Long Island.  They are: Canine Companions for Independence northeast headquarters in Medford; The Guide Dog Foundation in Smithtown; and Guardians of Rescue’s Paws of War program based across our Island.

“International Assistance Dog Week (IADW) was created to recognize of all the devoted, hardworking assistance dogs helping individuals mitigate their disability-related limitations.” (From the IADW website)

Canine Companions for Independence provides highly trained assistant dogs who help with their owners every day tasks in life, such as: turning on and off lights, picking up keys, phones or objects that may fall on the floor, opening drawers, doors, refrigerators and much more.  They also can alert a deaf owner to sound and alarms. CCI dogs are raised by volunteer puppy raisers who attend puppy classes with them and teach them house manners and how to behave in public i.e. public etiquette.  The dogs then move on to a CCI campus to begin their formal training.  Each dog is then selected and matched with their new owner based on the needs of that person.

Dagger who recently graduated from his puppy raising and is now in training at CCI and doing wonderful so far!

The location on Long Island is in Medford – and CCI also hosts quarterly graduation ceremonies where the puppies who have been raised by volunteers will be moving on to their formal training.  The graduation brings in hundreds of people from all across the northeast.  You can learn more about how to become a puppy raiser volunteer or how to make a donation by clicking here.

The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind was established in 1946 in Forest Hills, N.Y. and now it’s campus is now located in Smithtown, NY.  The Guide Dog Foundation provides dogs to assist people with vision loss and vision impairment have active, more normal lives.  They too have volunteer puppy raisers for the puppy’s young life from 7-week old puppy until the dog is 14 – 18 months old.  The dog then goes into formal training at the Guide Dog Foundation campus.  They are always in need of puppy raisers here on Long Island – you can learn more about becoming a puppy raiser here.

They also have another division called America’s VetDogs which provides dogs to military veterans with disabilities from all eras.  ’America’s VetDog places guide dogs with individuals who are blind; service dogs for those with other physical disabilities; and physical and occupational therapy dogs to work with service members in military and VA hospitals.’  (From America’s VetDogs website).

Both CCI and the Guide Dog Foundation use Labrador Retrivers, Golden Retrivers and sometimes a cross of the two.  They both have their own high standard breeding program that breeds only the best or creme of the crop puppies.  Not every dog makes it as a CCI dog or Guide Dog, and often the puppy raiser family takes the dog back to live their lives as a very well trained pet!  I have personally known a few of these incredible dogs – while they may have not made the stringent cut to serve a person – they are wonderful ‘pets!’

America’s VetDogs also works with shelters and has pulled shelter dogs, trained them through their program and are now working as service dogs for veterans! Love that!

Another organization that works with shelter dogs, has dedicated volunteer dog trainers and provide dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD, is Paws of War, by Guardians of Rescue.  Based locally on Long Island, and working with many area shelters and Save-a-Pet in Pt. Jefferson – they evaluate shelter dogs that will qualify for training, carefully matched with a veteran in need and provide and fund all training and any transportation needed.  They have placed about 17 dogs since 2012 when they started Paws of War.  It’s a minimum of six months training and we continue customized training afterward with the veterans. They presently have 9 volunteer trainers and continual training costs add up because the dogs are mostly out of state.  ”It’s hard work and takes dedication but we are privileged to help both ends of the leash,” said Dori Scofield of Save-a-Pet and Paws of War.

Additionally, their is a Long Island chapter of Pets for Vets, a national organization who trains companion animals for military veterans at no cost to the veteran.  All dogs are shelter dogs. ‘Our goal is to help heal the emotional wounds of military veterans by pairing them with a shelter animal that is specially selected to match his or her personality. Professional animal trainers rehabilitate the animals and teach them good manners to fit into the veteran’s lifestyle. Training can also include desensitization to wheel chairs or crutches as well as recognizing panic or anxiety disorder behaviors.’ (From the Pets for Vets website)Locally the have already worked with Brookhaven and with Last Hope in Wantagh.

To find out how you can get involved with Canine Companions for Independence, The Guide Dog Foundation or Paws of War, or Pets for Vets LI – contact them individually by clicking their links!  Each group is always in need of donations, volunteers and also offer facility tours and school educational programs (something for you teachers to think about – planning your guest speakers and possible field trips for the new school year).  You can also help by sharing this article – to bring more attention to these groups who often are only thought of when someone in your family is directly in need or involved.   Amazing local groups helping improve the lives of people with disabilities and our veterans.  Dogs are just incredible aren’t they!

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