Five months after having met Lana, Connie Delamater never imagined her heart would feel so full. It's hard for her to believe that in as little as eleven months she'll prepare to say, "Goodbye."
"It's kind of like waving as your kids go off to college, but it's puppy college," she said. "And it's in Oceanside California."
Even though saying, "Goodbye," will be difficult, "The joyful part of this, is that hopefully Lana is destined to become a service dog or a skilled companion dog," Delamater said, "It's going to be tough giving her up."
Delamater, 75th Force Support Squadron, is a puppy raiser with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI); and although Lana is the first puppy she has trained, she likely won't be the last.
CCI breeds golden retrievers, Labradors, and golden-Labrador mix dogs based on their obedience and sweet underlying temperament. CCI has a volunteer puppy raiser program in which they match puppies with community volunteers, and provide a training program to assist them with their new endeavor. The local CCI chapter facilitates training through Don's Pet Care Center in Ogden. Although program volunteers are only required to attend two classes per month, Delamater and her family go weekly because they're so much fun. The dogs are trained to become service dogs or skilled companion dogs. "We teach them 20 basic commands," she said. "As puppy raisers we take them out to socialize them a lot. There are four of us puppy raisers currently here on base. So you may see these dogs in uniform right here on Hill Air Force Base, wearing their yellow capes. Although you should always ask before approaching any dog, most raisers will give you permission to greet their dogs."
Delamater added that CCI emphasizes the importance of training puppies early, keeping them off the furniture, crating them when it's necessary to leave them home alone, and using the gentle leader. She explained that although the gentle leader is sometimes mistaken for a muzzle, it's not." Delamater continued, "Imagine leading a horse in the same way. The gentle leader simply helps focus their attention."
CCI provides skilled companion dogs to the Wounded Warrior Association (WWA). The motto they use for the joint effort with the WWA is, "One team, two heroes." Many recipients through WWA have said they couldn't live independently without their dogs. The dogs can be trained to pull their partners in manual wheelchairs, for example. The recipients can return with their dogs after six months to receive additional training with their dog. This is one of the only programs in which the dogs are free to recipients. "This program remains free only because of volunteers and donations," Delamater said.
Her introduction to the program came quite by accident.
Little did she know, when boarding a flight from New Mexico to Utah, what she'd learn on that plane ride would forever change the composition of her family. When she was seated, a Yorkie wearing a yellow cape immediately caught her attention. The dog's handler explained she was prone to epileptic seizures but her expertly trained medical response Yorkie served the purpose of alerting her to take her medication when she sensed signs of an impending seizure, thereby preventing them.
Delamater's decision practically made itself. When she returned home she found a newspaper article about the local CCI chapter and applied to be a volunteer puppy raiser at www.cci.org/puppyraiser. Soon after her family received a telephone interview followed by a home inspection. "They accepted us!" Connie said, beaming with joy. "The whole family was on board."
Delamater and her family received Lana V at the Salt Lake International Airport when she was only eight-weeks-old. The puppies are tracked throughout their lifetimes by CCI. Litters are carefully monitored and are lettered, naming each puppy with the same first letter in the same litter. Their ears are permanently marked with a sequential litter number and year of birth.
According to the CCI website, service dogs learn to assist people with special needs and disabilities including cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, autism and Down syndrome. These dogs are assigned under the guidance of a facilitator (parent, spouse or other caregiver) who handles and cares for the dog, encourages bonding between the disabled recipient and the dog, and is responsible for customized training needs specific to the recipient. These dogs assist with turning lights on, opening doors and picking up small items, such as keys and pencils.
The skilled companion dogs not only learn to assist with physical tasks, but also provide social support. These dogs have the specific purpose of reducing a disabled individual's reliance on other people. Disabilities served include, but are not limited to, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, arthritis and cerebral palsy. These dogs can pull their partners in manual wheelchairs, push buttons for elevators or automatic doors and even assist with the transfer of money, receipts, and packages among other tasks. Recipients attend a two-week training session in which they learn how to effectively handle an assistance dog and maximize the use of 40 commands.
CCI dogs are assigned to recipients for a period of 10 years. It's up to the recipient whether or not they want to stay in touch with the puppy raiser.
"However (for Lana), just in case they'd like to, we're making a scrapbook to take with her when she's assigned," Delamater said.
After their 10 year assignment, the dogs are retired out to become pets, at which time Delamater might just get Lana back. The puppy raisers receive first choice of retired dogs and if for any reason a dog doesn't make it through the complete training program, the puppy raiser is given first option to adopt them.
"CCI is like a family. We really need more volunteers who want to make a difference," said Delamater. CCI is a charitable organization, donations are tax deductible, and the organization participates in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC).
On Thursday, April 26, local puppies and recipients will be present at a fundraiser sponsored by the Utah Wasatch Champions Chapter of CCI at the Union Station Browning Theater in Ogden. The event -- Imagine Independence -- will include a dinner and silent auction. The featured guest speaker will be Dr. Frank McMillan, a board-certified specialist in veterinary internal medicine and director of Well-Being Studies at Best Friends Animal Society, a no-kill shelter located in Angel Canyon in Kanab, Utah. McMillan assesses and studies the mental health and emotional well-being of animals who have endured hardship, adversity and psychological trauma and is the author of "Unlocking the Animal Mind." Reserved seats can be purchase online at: cci.org/imagineindependence.
For more information regarding the Ogden Chapter CCI Program or to express your interest in becoming a puppy raiser call Linda Weiskopf, 801-389-5245.