Raising Hope: Fishers residents share passion for fostering service dogs

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By James Feichtner

There are many ways one can donate their time to a charitable cause. For a few local Fishers residents, finding a rewarding form of charity sprang from their willingness to give and a common love for dogs. Fishers’ Emily Hansen, Dave Norris and Nancee Wright all donate their time as puppy raisers for the nonprofit organization Canine Companions for Independence, which provides assistance dogs to children, adults and disabled veterans.

For Norris and Wright, puppy-raising has been part of their lives for several years. Out of the three, Wright has been raising the longest and is currently on her 11th dog, Hollister.

“I’ve been doing this 10 years. Hollister is number 11. My oldest daughter, who is 23 now, is the one who started us on this,” Wright said. “She decided in eighth grade she wanted to do this for a community service project and she loved dogs so she did some research and found this organization and it fit perfectly. In a couple weeks we actually met a puppy raiser. She raised the first dog, but obviously with my help because she was a minor, but it took off from there.”

The goal of puppy raisers for CCI is to raise, train, socialize and care for the specially bred dogs to an appropriate age until they’re ready to begin their advanced training to become assistance dogs.

Norris, who’s been puppy-raising for five years, actually ran into Wright with one of her dogs at Church.

“(Nancee) is the one who when, about seven and 1/2 years ago, we went to church and here came this woman with this beautiful black dog and I went, ‘Who is that woman? Why does she get to bring a dog to church?’” Norris said. “I could quickly detect that it was not her animal and I said, ‘How do I get a piece of that action?’ It’s been absolute tremendous fun since.”

For Hansen, this is her first experience as a puppy raiser for both her family and CCI.

“This is our first time raising a puppy,” Hansen said. “We had a dog previously and we lost him about two years ago. We have neighbor who has a CCI dog as a skilled companion dog. One day at the Fishers Farmers Market CCI had a booth set up an I ended up talking with Nancee Wright for probably the better part of an hour about what it entails to be a puppy raiser.”

Since the dogs must be socialized out in the public as part of their training, Hansen, Norris and Wright said they are often stopped to talk about their pups.

“I’m naturally outgoing and so I will stand and talk to people about the dog,” Hansen said. “(The puppy) is just a really good talking point. My son likes to talk to people too and so he’s become a really good advocate too for CCI. We carry business cards around and so anybody he talks to he offers them a card.”

“A ten-minute trip to the grocery store sometimes turns into a 20 to 25 minutes because people sometimes start asking questions and stopping you,” Norris said. “As great ambassadors we always feel like we need to talk about it.”

Seeing the dogs in public also provides a great way to spread the word about CCI.

“I like introducing people to it and seeing if they decide they want to take a step forward in volunteering or becoming involved or maybe being a puppy raiser.” Wright said. “Maybe you meet that special person who goes home and applies for a dog because you made a difference for them and shown them what that dog might do for them.”

Norris said that the best part bout puppy-raising is having a dog graduate advanced training, but the hardest part is giving the dog back after the puppy raising is completed.

“The highpoints are getting the puppy and then being able to hand that leash off at graduation; to know that that dog is helping free somebody up in that process,” Norris said. “Yeah, the low point is turning the dog in, but you just can’t avoid it. You start with the mindset that you know that dog is going to get turned in, so you know that dog is not your dog for a time but you’ve invested time and effort and a piece of your heart goes to that dog.”

To learn more about Canine Companions for Independence, visit cci.org

About CCI

Founded – 1975

Type of Organization –  501 (c)(3) Nonprofit

Midwest Headquarters – Deleware, Ohio

Teams graduated since opening – 4,797

Volunteers nationwide – 3000+

Breeds used – Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and a mix of the two.

Average service life per dog– Eight years

Four types of dogs trained:

  • Service dogs– assist adults with physical disabilities by performing daily tasks.
  • Hearing dogs – alert the deaf and hard of hearing to important sounds.
  • Skilled companion dogs – enhance independence for children and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities.
  • Facility dogs – work with a professional in a visitation, education or healthcare setting.

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