OCEANSIDE — It was a joyful afternoon filled with hugs, kisses and pats on the tummy at the Canine Companions for Independence graduation Nov. 15. Those that raised the puppies said goodbye as the new owners said hello to the animals that will soon become their service dogs and lifelong companions.
The event celebrated the work of puppy raisers, who handed over the leash to the dogs’ new owners. Rochelle Mendonis of Garden Grove, a repeat puppy raiser, brought Wickman, a black Labrador, to say hello to his new owner Joshua before the dog starts his final training at the Canine Companions for Independence facility. Mendonis explained that the process of raising a puppy to be a service dog is rewarding, but the moment of letting go is difficult. “You know when you start, but it’s tough to turn them in,” Mendonis said. “He stole my heart in a very special way, but I can tell he really wants to go. He jumped up when I said Joshua’s name. He knows he belongs to Joshua now.”
Dogs are matched with their owners while they are puppies and then dogs enter advanced training to learn one of four specialized jobs to help their new owner. Chuck Contreras, director of development for the San Diego region of the organization, said service dogs help disabled adults, skilled companion dogs serve as a social bridge and perform daily tasks for disabled children, hearing dogs alert hearing-impaired owners to phones and doorbells, and facility dogs work with nurses and counselors as therapy dogs.
At the ceremony, children, injured military personnel and wheelchair-bound adults greeted their new dogs before the animals start their final six months of training. Owners go through the last two weeks of advanced training with their dogs and are housed with their dogs on the Canine Companions for Independence campus. Advance training for puppies raised in California, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado takes place at the Canine Companions facility in Oceanside, according to Charles Lansing, a Canine Companions for Independence volunteer.
“For a person with a disability to receive a dog to help them with more independence is life for them,” Contreras said. “It’s our pleasure to provide them with dogs at no cost to them.”