Although many regional centers celebrated Team Training graduations yesterday, I am partial to Canine Companions’ Southeast Regional Center ceremony because that’s where I graduated with Patterson, and where I made friends who understand the explosion of independence, confidence, and possibility our assistance dogs bring. Canine Companions doesn’t ask me to extol the virtues of this organization–I do it because I love it, almost as much as I love my dog. I am a compulsive finde of theme songs to describe us, and this graduation ceremony perfectly honored 28 matriculating puppies who are starting advanced training with “Life Is Better With You” by Michael Franti & Spearhead (lyrics included).
Among the many teams whose stories resonated with me are skilled companion team Allie, a young girl with Down Syndrome, her mother, and, of course, assistance dog Zarina, who will help Allie improve her limited speech by following commands Allie gives, and will function as a social bridge to help form friendships with others. Her mother notes that they began to see what a dog could do for Allie when she befriended one at a campsite, and said, “Doggie, come here. Doggie, sit. Doggie, eat your food.” These were more complete sentences than Allie had previously ever spoken, and the magic continued when she was matched with Zarina and uttered an incredible new word of praise: “Awesome!”
In an update Karen gave about her successor hearing dog, Ninja III, she said something that I have found to be true even though my needs with Patterson are different. “He creates a presence that seems to make it easier for people to understand my challenge, simply because they are curious about him.” Our dogs are the ultimate equalizers, no matter how different our disabilities. There is always the joyful face, the wagging tail, and a bond that surprises us daily with its depth and force.
To learn more about becoming a volunteer puppy raiser, donating to help place exceptional dogs with exceptional people, or applying for an assistance dog, visit cci.org.