By Deborah Marie SmithNovember 1, 2011
Two Phoenix Battalion Recruiters, Sgt. 1st Class Michael LaHaye and Staff Sgt. Bryan Thompson, Scottsdale Recruiting Station, participated in a golf tournament Sept. 9 to give disabled veterans a four-legged helping hand. The tournament, a benefit for Canine Companions for Independence, at the Troon North Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., helped fund the organization's Wounded Veteran's Initiative.
Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) was established in 1975 and provides assistance dogs free of charge to disabled people. In 2007, the organization established the Wounded Warriors initiative to increase the placements of skilled companion dogs with disabled veterans, particularly those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. So far, 35 disabled veterans have received a furry helper, who is trained to perform up to 50 commands, thanks to the non-profit organization.
"They open and close doors, retrieve dropped objects, activate light switches, and pull manual wheelchairs," said Katie Malatino, CCI Public Relations. "In addition to practical tasks, assistance dogs provide immeasurable emotional support to their human partners."
Kirk Black, a former U.S. Army Specialist with a spinal cord injury, knows how a canine helper can positively impact a disabled person's quality of life.
Sergie, my service dog, is just there for me," he said. "I have severe pain issues and the pull command which tells him to pull my manual wheel chair, is the one that helps me the most. But just having him there with me throughout my day is more important than anything else."
The canine helpers are raised by volunteers until they are 18 months old who teach the puppies basic commands and socialization skills. Then the dogs are returned to CCI and live at one of the five regional centers. For six months, the dogs endure daily training by professional instructors.
"If and only when the dogs exhibit the right skills and temperament during professional training, they are placed as assistance dogs for people with disabilities," said Katie Malatino.
CCI relies solely on donations and volunteers to provide the canine helpers free of charge. The organization estimates it costs $50,000 to fund a dog's breeding, training and the ongoing follow-up services after the dog is placed.
"I felt compelled to help this organization because they enrich the lives of my wounded brethren in arms," said LaHaye. "They have gone above and beyond to take care of our disabled veterans and they deserve our assistance."
For more information about Canine Companions for Independence, go to http://www.cci.org.