Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit a unique facility in Farmingdale. Canine Companions for Independence is a not-for-profit organization, which helps people with disabilities. Providing highly trained dogs to assist the disabled is the organization's mission.
On my arrival at Canine Companions, I was greeted by Ivan Helfand, the organization's dedicated regional director for the Northeast. After giving me some background about Canine Companions, we visited the kennels and then to a training class. The kennels were immaculate with beautiful golden retrievers, Labs and mixed breeds. Each dog in the kennel cheerfully looked for attention. It was a good thing that my daughter Karen was not with me. She would have immediately wanted to adopt one of them. But, I will get to how you can have one of the pups later.
As we arrived in the training room, one dog was being trained by an instructor seated in a wheelchair. Next, another dog entered and a second trainer sat in a wheelchair to start the instruction process. Neither dog paid any attention to the other -- again, part of their training is to operate in the real world. The total focus of the dogs was on the person in the wheelchair.
I still cannot get over the disposition, calmness and willingness of those animals to help. They can open doors and even retrieve items from a refrigerator. And if that is not enough, the dogs are trained to turn light switches on and off, put clothes in a dryer, sort recyclables and bring the phone to a disabled person!
It costs over $25,000 to care for, train and place one dog. The demand for dogs just cannot be met. Mr. Helfand informed me that the Northeast division of Canine Companions currently places around 30 dogs each year with a current backlog of one to two years, depending on the type of disability being experienced by the recipient.
Canine Companions wants to reduce the waiting time for a dog by expanding its operations. The organization also wants to start using more dogs in nursing homes, hospitals and hospices. All research now indicates that the presence of a loving dog actually promotes the healing process in humans. If you would like to help, there are several ways. First, you and your family can participate in the Puppy Raising Program. This means rearing a puppy from eight weeks of age until 13 to 18 months. Developing happy, healthy and obedient dogs is essential for the animals to be trained as a companion.
In addition to the Puppy Raising Program, there are several other ways to help. Financial support is always welcome by this not-for-profit. In addition, you can volunteer to help in the office located on the SUNY Farmingdale campus.
For additional information or to offer your services, you can reach Ivan Helfand at 694-6938. Additional information can be obtained from the organization's web site: www.caninecompanions.org.