Canine Companions for Independence 2

“It isn’t easy, letting them go after watching them grow up,” says Mary Jane McGinnis, Puppy Raiser for Canine Companions for Independence. “But we always say to ourselves, somebody else will love them as much as we do, but they need ’em more.”

Canine Companions for Independence was founded in 1975 with the goal of providing assistance dogs to those who need them most. What sets them apart from similar organizations is that they provide canine companions at no cost to people with physical or hearing disabilities, further enhancing the quality of their lives.

McGinnis first learned about the California-born Canine Companions for Independence nonprofit eight years ago through her daughter, and she and her husband found themselves excitedly stepping in to dog sit when needed. When their own pup passed away two years ago, they decided to fill their household with love by opening it up to another dog. This time, they decided to volunteer to raise puppies for Canine Companions.

Volunteers span all around the country, and they raise and train four types of assistance dogs: service dogs, who assist individuals with disabilities by performing tasks such as opening doors and turning lights on; facility dogs, who work with those in need in visitation, education, criminal justice or health care settings; hearing dogs, who assist humans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing; and skilled companions, who improve quality of life by enhancing independence of a child/adult team. The dogs also take on one other role, and it’s a role that they cannot be taught… if the words “man’s best friend” crossed your mind, you hit the nail on the head. The dogs, who are either Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, or a cross between the two, provide unrivaled friendship and companionship to the humans they serve.

“All around the nation, there is a need for such dogs,” says McGinnis. “It’s obvious there is a need—it gives a person tremendous independence. Many people go from living with family to living on their own, with their dog at their side. These dogs, from birth to retirement, are worth an estimated $50,000.”

Though the dogs are born near Santa Rosa, California, puppy raisers and the humans that the pups will eventually serve are located all across the country. The country is divided into six regions, and the North Central Region, headquartered in Delaware, Ohio, serves 13 surrounding states. Approximately 300 active volunteers help them complete their mission, and over 170 of them are puppy raisers, like McGinnis. Others volunteer in a variety of ways, ranging from spreading awareness to coordinating and working at the DogFest Walk ‘n Roll, the organization’s national signature fundraiser event. Last year, regional efforts resulted in the pairing of 63 puppy graduates with humans in need.

“In the immediate area, we actually have a handful of volunteers,” explains McGinnis. “There are four puppy raisers in Medina, and two graduate teams live here. But the Northern Ohio Chapter has over 60 members, and we’re very much like a family. We get together twice a month to train. We do fun things, like visit stores, restaurants, or destinations like the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Everything we do is to help get the dogs used to different environments. And the dogs love our outings.”

Puppy raisers not only provide early care for the dogs, but, before they move on to professional training, they must ensure that they are socialized and know about 30 commands. It is important to make sure that service dogs are not easily distracted or prey-driven, and they must be medically sound. Since the dogs are provided to those in need at no cost, fundraisers are frequently hosted throughout the community.

“Mark your calendars for September 24,from 1 to 4 p.m.,“ reminds McGinnis. “DogFest Walk ‘n Roll will take place on Medina Square. It is a culmination of social media fundraising and a celebration of what our organization does. We will have many festivities, and the event is kid-friendly, family-friendly, and, most importantly, pet-friendly.”

Last year, the event raised more than $66,000, and every cent went toward improving someone’s lifestyle. They will also appear at the Medina Farmers Market throughout the season to further spread awareness. Still, since raising and training service dogs takes time and are given free of charge, there is a waiting list for those who need a canine companion. You can help make a difference today by volunteering, donating or raising a puppy. For more information on  opportunities, visit CCI.org.