Friday, February 17, 2012

Canine companions for disabled U.S. military veterans and others in need!

Canine Companions for Independence!

This past week I had the honor and the privilege to visit and tour a facility located in Long Island, New York that breeds, trains and then provides dogs for wounded veterans and others who need assistance with the everyday tasks that most of us take for granted. The only type of disability that these dogs don't work with is blindness.

CCI was founded in California in 1975 and since that time has placed over 3,500 dogs around the country with those who need their special services and skills. The dogs are trained to work in one of four areas; Service, Hearing, Skilled Companion and Facility; and are hand selected based on the needs of an individual and the temperament of the animal.

Each dog first spends an extended period of time at the homes of volunteer puppy raisers who teach them certain basic skills. The dogs then go to a CCI facility where they are trained in the specific skills they need as service dogs.

I believe that only 45% of dogs who begin actually make it through into service which is an indication of just how special the ones who graduate actually are.

The Facility, Richard Sweeney and Ocean

At the invitation of John Bentzinger of CCI, I drove out to tour the facilities and to meet Richard Sweeney. Richard is a Vietnam-era Army veteran confined to a wheelchair and who currently is retired and living in New Hampshire.

He is at the CCI facility where he has been training with Ocean (see above) who will be a service dog. Ocean will assist Richard with everyday tasks like opening doors, drawers, refrigerators, etc. He will be able to turn lights on and off, pick up any dropped objects on command….wallets, phones, credit cards, even as small as a dime.

Richard is a special individual who, along with a group of other special people, forms an organization known as the Pease Greeters. This is their stated mission:

The Pease Greeters Mission:

· To welcome troops passing through Pease International Airport on their way to, or from, Afghanistan or Iraq, or any other areas of conflict in any part of the world.

· To create within the Pease Trade Port an environment that reflects the respect and high esteem in which we hold all veterans.

· To promote broad participation by the general public in this welcoming of heroes, paying special attention to the education of school children by instilling respect and admiration for the troops through formal ceremonies for each flight.

The flight at Pease AFB in Portsmouth, NH could be landing or leaving at 4:00 PM or 4:00 AM and some number of Pease Greeters will be there to give the soldiers the type of welcome home or send-off that a soldier in the United States military deserves!

This is particularly important because due to the remote location of the airport few if any of the soldiers will have family there. For the soldiers returning from a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, it's possible that there was little if any time between leaving a combat zone and getting on a plane home.

Being greeted the way that they are by the Pease Greeters and now by Ocean as well will in many ways be more therapeutic than any other type of therapy could possibly be at that time.

Ocean will be helping to ensure the success of the Pease Greeters mission the way that only a dog can do!

But besides getting to meet Richard, I met a number of other trainees and their family's at CCI who will each be leaving with service dogs like Ocean that will help them with some of the most basic daily functions that once again, most of us take for granted.

The CCI mission!

The facility provides housing for up to ten families each training session. In addition the building houses kennels, veterinary offices, training rooms, classrooms and outdoor pens. The building is spotless and if you didn't know that dogs lived there you couldn't tell any other way.

CCI survives on the charitable kindness of its current friends and the people like me who were already friends but just didn't know it yet.

I promised John that although The Political Commentator has never been involved in fundraising before, the great service that CCI provides to veterans and others in need is truly inspirational and that I would do everything that I could to help.

Help can take many different forms such as the potential to be a volunteer puppy raiser, but above all CCI needs donations to maintain the stellar level of service to the people that they help!

If you can, go out and visit the facility to see in person the great work that they do at CCI.

And please help this fantastic organization keep doing the critically important work that they do by clicking on the link below and giving whatever you can!

Click here to donate to Canine Companions for Independence!

Mike Haltman
The Political Commentator

ABOUT CANINE COMPANIONS FOR INDEPENDENCE: Canine Companions for Independence is the largest non-profit provider of trained assistance dogs with five regional training centers across the country. Established in 1975, Canine Companions provides highly trained assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities and is recognized worldwide for the excellence of its dogs, and quality and longevity of the matches it makes between dogs and people. There is no charge for the dog, its training and on-going follow-up services. For more information, visit or call 1-800-572-BARK

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