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October 25, 2002

Doggone good dog do-gooders

From: Shelbyville News, IN
Oct. 25, 2002


After a serious power struggle over the back seat in August 2001, Gitt finally conceded to his replacement.

Dawn Ramsey still has Gittinger, a border collie who was her first canine companion and hearing dog, but he is now retired.

“It’s a hard decision to retire your dog,” she said.

It took leaving him at her brother’s home in North Carolina for awhile when it came time to make the transition to her newest furry friend from Canine Companions for Independence.

The organization was founded in 1978. It offers specially trained dogs free of charge to people with disabilities and even helps owners with major veterinary costs.

A 2.5-mile fund-raising walk to benefit the national non-profit organization takes place Sunday at Sunset Park.

Four of the dogs have been placed in Shelby County — all in Waldron. Besides Gitt and Nero, a service dog named Kaz assists Brad Schafer, and a skilled companion dog named Liza helps Tara McQuary.

Like Gitt, Nero, a soon-to-be three-year-old Labrador/golden retriever mix, does many things his owner cannot. Ramsey lost most of her hearing about 10 years ago to Meniere’s disease. She also has difficulty walking because of an auto accident in 1984.

As a hearing dog, Nero is more than a friend. A laid-back pup with a totally different personality than eager-to-please Gitt, he still helps Ramsey maintain independence as she goes about her daily life as a substitute teacher at Waldron High School.

Nero was free to Ramsey, but that doesn’t mean that independence comes cheaply. It costs $15,000 for Canine Companions to train a dog for service, Ramsey said. There are five training centers in the United States —in Ohio, New York, Florida and California.

Trainers start when the dogs are about eight weeks old. Puppy trainers do obedience training — the basics, like sit, stay and heel. Skilled trainers take over to teach more sophisticated tasks. Dogs can pull a wheelchair and are taught to retrieve dropped items, turn lights on and off, open doors, even give money to a cashier and carry a package.

Training is specialized for different needs. A service dog serves people who are physically challenged; a hearing dog is for those who are hearing impaired; facility dogs work with people in nursing homes and those in rehabilitation; a skilled companion dog helps those with multiple challenges.

Training and boarding expenses make events like this fund-raising walk necessary. But Ramsey doesn’t mind.

“There’s not a whole lot that I wouldn’t do for CCI. The dogs give you so much in return; I do fund-raisers to thank them for bringing this animal into my life,” she said.

The fund-raising walk in Shelbyville last year raised about $3,000.

Content © The Shelbyville News