In our veterinary blog, meet an amazing local family who volunteers to train service dogs and learn how Idaho’s first DogFest Walk ‘N Roll fundraiser can offset costs and place a graduate dog with a family in need.
“HELP is a four-legged word.” This phrase is embodied by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). Established in 1975, CCI is a nonprofit organization that provides highly-trained assistance dogs to enhance the lives of people with disabilities. The service dogs that complete the program serve people in a myriad of ways. They may provide help with physical tasks (picking up dropped items, ringing a doorbell, opening a cabinet, etc.) or serve as an emotional support animal. In all, these graduates learn to respond to 40 commands.
Getting a dog through the program is an arduous process. CCI is only successful because of the dedication of volunteer training families. The Gedler family, located in the Treasure Valley, is one of those families. They have been training CCI service dogs for many years. Our paths crossed when one of their trainees required specialty veterinary care; we are delighted to share their story in today’s blog.
The Gedler’s learned about Canine Companions for Independence after attending a local fair at a park and stopping by the CCI information booth. Christina Gedler tells us what happened when they returned home:
“When we got back we told our kids about CCI and thought that was the end of that. Kenzie, our daughter, went right to work researching the program and begging us to become involved. On a side note, when our kids were very young, I suffered a spinal stroke. Doctor’s believed that I would never walk again and as my children watched my recovery process, they developed huge hearts for anyone struggling physically or emotionally. In addition, as a family, we have been involved in the adaptive ski program “Rec Unlimited.” Kenzie thought this was a “shoe- in” for her to train a puppy. My husband Chris and I were a little hesitant, both because of the commitment and the fact that you must give the puppy back. After two years of begging, promises, and Power Point presentations, Kenzie talked us into applying for a puppy.
We received Giga and promptly fell in love with her and all that CCI does and stands for. When the time came to return Giga to prepare for her service assignment, we all agreed that it was an amazing experience, and that we were glad we did it, BUT we were done. No more puppies. However, during the graduation ceremony, we quickly changed our minds as we watched the procession of dogs going to their “forever homes.” We were so touched and humbled at the little bit of work and sacrifice on our parts that would now profoundly change someone else’s life. At that event our son, John, signed up for a puppy, and Geralene soon joined us. Upon her graduation, my daughter’s trainee, Finola came into our lives. Not to be outdone, Chris and I have since signed up for Helix–we are hooked, to say the least.
Still, it’s difficult. Giving the dog back to complete advanced training is always very challenging, there are lots of tears, but we try to keep the big picture in mind. Then, at graduation and placement, when we meet the families that the dogs will serve, there are simply no words for the joy we experience. Getting to know the families and creating that relationship is what makes this experience so very special.”
The training process for a CCI puppy is different than that used in homes for a family pet. To learn the process, the Gedler family attended CCI training classes and provided daily training sessions with Giga. Then, an unforeseen hurdle—Giga became injured. She was treated at WestVet by Dr. Sean Murphy, Veterinary Surgeon, for a leg injury. Due to her recovery time and post-op physiotherapy, Giga missed out on some of the training routines. Not to worry, she made a full recovery, training was successfully resumed, and Christina tells us that she graduated and was placed with a teen-ager to serve as an emotional support animal”
“Giga has since grown into a “family” support due to other family members going through medical challenges. Geralene was placed with a hearing-impaired gentleman where she alerts her person to sounds that he needs to be aware of such as the phone, doorbells, his wife or children calling to him. Geralene allows him to be more independent at work and while driving. Finny did not graduate as a service dog but was placed with a family in California and has become a welcome member of their family. An important note, only about 35% of the dogs graduate, assuring that the dogs CCI assigns are the very best. Helix is still being trained with graduation and future assignments on the horizon.”
Training a puppy to become a service dog graduate is expensive; CCI estimates the cost to be about $40,000 per dog. To help offset that expense, a fundraiser will take place this weekend. Idaho’s very first DogFest Walk ‘n Roll will be held this Sunday at Settler’s Park in Meridian, from 12 N to 3 PM. You can register a team or individual for the event HERE.
Visitors to the event can expect a fun-filled afternoon including dog agility demonstrations, a CCI service dog graduate with Iraq veteran Charlie Linville, McGruff the Crime Prevention Dog, food, and music!
We hope to see you there!