Canine Companions for Independence helps disabled find dogs
By Rachel Weaver
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 9:02 p.m.
Inga, a yellow labrador, has a favorite spot: near Joseph Leckenby.
The 4-year-old assistance dog has been by his side for two years, helping with tasks his cerebral palsy makes difficult.
“I like her so much,” said Joseph, 13, while sitting in his family's Mt. Lebanon home with Inga's head in his lap.
Inga came to the family through Canine Companions for Independence, or CCI, a national nonprofit provider of trained assistance dogs for children, adults and veterans with physical disabilities. The organization will host its first Pittsburgh-region fundraiser, DogFest featuring Snoopy and Friends, Oct. 27. It will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at Peterswood Park, Shelter No. 4 in Venetia.
The event will feature a pledge walk with trick-or-treat stops, a silent auction and a costume contest for humans and dogs. All proceeds benefit the organization.
Presenting sponsor is the Beth and Russ Siegelman Family Foundation; co-sponsors are Tim and Teri Dunlap. Tim Dunlap is president and chief operating officer of CentiMark roofing contractors, Canonsburg. Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, was a major supporter of Canine Companions. His widow, Jean Schulz, is a national board member.
CCI officials breed golden and Labrador retriever puppies, then send them to regional offices to await volunteer foster families when they are 8 weeks old. Over 18 months, the dogs are taught dozens of commands, including sit, down, heel and shake. Then the dogs return to the regional office for up to nine months of advanced training.
There is no charge for the dog, its training and ongoing follow-up services, which costs CCI $45,000 for each animal.
“I love the way dogs impact the lives of people,” said Jim Caprio, 59, of Upper St. Clair, CCI volunteer and Dogfest organizer. “A lot of people think this is a dog thing. It's really a people thing.”
Caprio has spent time around Joseph and Inga.
“You see how the dog treats the kid and how people treat the team. They don't treat him like a handicapped kid any more,” Caprio said. “It makes him like a magnet and more social. It just enriches the life so much.”
Inga responds to 45 commands, including “push” to close doors or drawers and “get” to pick up a dropped item. She can turn on and off lights, and knows “let's go” means it's time to walk. She accompanies the family just about anywhere.
But perhaps just as important as her ability to help with tasks is the companionship she provides Joseph.
“With Joseph being an only child with no sibling to hang out with, we thought it would be a great experience for him to always have a buddy, even if he's just watching TV or doing homework,” said Joseph's mother, Julie. “She is pretty much always by his side.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.