Canine Companions Northeast Region held its most recent graduation ceremony for the six newest service dog graduates at its Medford facility this spring.
Since 1975, Canine Companions has been providing service dogs to adults, children, and veterans with social, emotional, and physical disabilities as well as facility dogs to professionals working in healthcare, criminal justice, and educational settings.
“Upon arrival at the training facility, dogs become familiar with their new environment and socialize with their roommates. They are provided with beautiful kennels which come equipped with heated floors, automatic waterers, and other great amenities,” says Taylor Studley, the apprentice instructor responsible for training recent graduate dog Legolas, as well as several other dogs throughout past programs.
“Throughout the program, dogs receive individual attention, learning sessions with both trainers and approved recipients, group play, nap time, and of course plenty of cuddles,” Studley adds.
Training begins when dogs are just eight weeks old with volunteer puppy raisers who work to socialize and teach basic commands. When the dogs turn 1.5 years old, they begin a 6-month training program at the Canine Companions Training Facility where they learn about 40 commands, including turning on/off lights and picking up items as small as a dime.
The service dog training program is so rigorous that only about half of the dogs enrolled actually graduate. Dogs are tested three months into the program and again at six months. Those unable to complete the testing requirements are released from the program and offered back to their puppy raiser to own as a pet, and graduates immediately begin their career as a service dog.
According to recipients, the opportunity to own a service dog is life changing. Justin Kaniper is no stranger to these benefits. His first dog, Holiday, recently retired from his service dog duties, so Legolas is stepping in to help Justin navigate through life’s daily challenges. According to Justin’s grandmother and legal guardian, Michele Ciofalo, having a service dog has made such a positive impact on Justin.
“He was very shy with a terrible speech impediment which at times left him lonely and isolated. But with a service dog by his side, Justin gained the confidence he needs to interact with people in ways he never could before,” Ciofalo says.
Through Canine Companions, service dogs are provided at no cost to recipients, which is no small thing, considering the average cost to raise and train one service dog can cost more than $50,000. Donors and volunteers generously offset the costs with the belief that the independence that these amazing dogs provide to people in need is priceless.
To learn more about becoming a volunteer puppy raiser or about the Canine Companion program, visit canine.org.