09 Aug 10

National Assistance Dog Week ...

By Nancy E. Hassel, LIPetPlace.com

This week from Sunday, August 8 through Saturday, August 14, National Assistance Dog Week (NADW), http://www.assistancedogweek.org/, is celebrated across the United States.  In recognition for all the amazing things assistance dogs do for their companions, to help them live their lives to the fullest – NADW was born.  Whether the person is blind, visually impaired, a diabetic, an amputee, has a traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder or owns and works with a therapy dog, we honor all the canines, their handlers and trainers this week.

Here on Long Island we are fortunate to have a two dedicated organizations that train dogs to be assistance dogs. The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc., in Smithtown was started 1946 and has been providing guide dogs free of charge to blind people who seek enhanced mobility and independence. Located in Patchogue, the Northeast Region of Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), provides highly trained assistance dogs, that are also free of charge to children and adults with disabilities in 13 states across the Northeast and opened 1989.  Both of these much needed amazing organizations are non-for-profit and relay on donations to continue their efforts.

While the Guide Dog Foundation continues to provide dogs to assist the blind and visually impaired and they also have a sister organization called America’s VetDogs.  America’s VetDogs was created to consolidate and increase their outreach to veterans. VetDogs provides guide dogs for veterans who are blind or visually impaired; service dogs for those with disabilities other than blindness (amputations, traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorder, etc.); specialized facilities dogs that provide physical and occupation therapy at VA and military hospitals. Also, unique combat stress control dogs that are deployed with combat stress control teams to work with soldiers in the field dealing with combat stress, issues on the home front, or sleep disorders.

Photo’s courtesy America’s VetDogs and The
Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind/William Krol

The Guide Dog Foundation has developed a special balance harness for work with amputees and provide refresher training for guide dog users. Guide dogs are also taught “intelligent disobedience,” which means that they will not proceed if they and their handler are in danger.  For disabled veterans with traumatic brain injuries who may also suffer from some cognitive impairment, a service dog trained with intelligent disobedience stops them from crossing a street if a car is coming.

“With the expansion of both our guide and service dog programs, there many career paths for our dogs. It’s rewarding to us that so many more people can be helped by a dog that’s matched with someone who needs it the most – no matter what its job,” stated William A. Krol, Communications Manager at the Guide Dog Foundation. “Each day is a new adventure as we serve people with disabilities, but we could not accomplish what we do without our donors, volunteers, and staff. We are supported entirely thanks to the generosity of individuals, corporations, foundations, and service groups. We do not receive regular government funding.”

At Canine Companions for Independence which started in 1975 in Santa Rosa, CA, and has regions across the US including our own in Patchogue, the life changing result begins with their CCI breeding program.  They use advanced technology, so with their breeding program they meticulously select and pair dogs for breeding.  Volunteer breeder caretakers provide homes for the breeder dogs and whelp the puppies, returning the puppies to CCI national headquarters in Santa Rosa, California at age eight weeks.

Then the puppies are placed in volunteer puppy raiser homes across the US for socialization and obedience training.  At the ages between fifteen and eighteen months the puppies return to one of five CCI Regional Training Centers across the country for six months of in depth training.

CCI dogs are train four types of assistance dogs and master over 40 specialized commands.  The dogs are trained in one of the following categories: Service Dogs, Skilled Companions, Hearing Dogs and Facility Dogs. Once the dog has completed the training, the dogs are teamed with a graduate during an intensive two week training period, called Team Training.

While these dogs are friendly, they are working dogs.  The general public needs to respect this and always ask their handler if they can say hello prior to petting the dog.  As this goes with any dog, it is especially important for assistance dogs.  We applaud all the hard work the dogs, organizations and volunteers do to continue to make assistance dogs a possibile and vital part of their owner’s lives.

For more information on how you can become involved with either the Guide Dog Foundation or Canine Companions for Independence as a puppy raiser, volunteer or make donations go to their respective websites: http://www.guidedog.org/content.aspx?id=548 or http://www.cci.org/site/c.cdKGIRNqEmG/b.3978475/k.BED8/Home.html

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