A service dog lay patiently under a bus seat, accompanying its owner to campus. With one motion, the dog rose from the floor, guided the man off of the bus and faithfully stayed beside him as they walked to their destination.
Programs like Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), Seeing Eye and National Education for Assistance Dogs Services (NEADS) help people with disabilities by providing service dogs. Dan Hardesty, Agricultural Land Coordinator at WSU, has been a volunteer puppy trainer for CCI since 2002. He and his wife, Linda Hardesty, a professor at WSU, were inspired to make a change after “[Linda's] mom had received a dog..it made a big difference so it was sort of a way to pay back on that.”
CCI is based in Santa Rosa, CA. and has five regional training centers. They are a nonprofit organization, allowing those in need to receive a companion they truly deserve.
There are four categories of dogs one can get from CCI: service dogs that help adults with physical disabilities, hearing dogs, skilled companion dogs for children and adults with various disabilities and facility dogs that go to environments such as hospitals or court rooms to provide comfort to sick or traumatized individuals. Puppy trainers are asked to provide a safe home, obedience classes, a healthy diet, socialization and love.
Hardesty has had a great success with graduating puppies, he said, which he partly attributes to “bring[ing] the dog onto a school... they may get exposed to quite a bit more than maybe some other people living in a small town.”
At puppy graduations, the trainer gets to present the dog to the receiver, Hardesty said.
“(There is) not a dry eye in the house,"he said."You just look at the smile on the dog's face and the smile on the person's face and you know [CCI has] made a difference."
Michael Dambra, owner of Powell Plumbing in Moscow, and his wife raised their first puppy and received news that their dog was selected for CCI's breeding program.
"(It is) a great honor because these dogs are the best of the best and we feel quite fortunate,” he said.
Dambra was very passionate about what he experiences through CCI's program.
“[The puppies] absolutely change people's lives for the better,"he said."The dogs make such a life changer for the recipients and it's a really good opportunity for us to meet a lot of people and talk to them.”
Katrin Spilde, a fellow CCI volunteer puppy trainer, had a similar feeling about the program.
“It has brought amazing insightful powers to our family and for our ability to communicate...with the rest of the world, educate the rest of the community about the wonders of dogs,” she said.
Dambra said he experienced similar feelings for the program and the people he met.
Not all volunteers are adult.
Adrianna Splide, Katrin Spilde's 13-year-old daughter, said she convinced her family to volunteer. Before her family was on board, Adrianna helped co-raise three dogs. She is now on her seventh service puppy.
“I will forever be thankful to her for getting our family involved in [CCI] because this is something that we will probably do until we can't walk anymore,” Adrianna Splide said.
For those interested in volunteering or making a contribution, check out www.cci.org. Readers curious to see some of the amazing things service dogs are trained to do can go to www.youtube.com and type in the keywords “Peggy”, “Felice” and “Soda”.