Shawnee residents and fire department help train assistance dogs

By Nico Roesler
Shawnee Dispatch – April 14, 2015

Placer, a black lab, and Liza, a golden retriever sit on the front of a Shawnee fire truck. Photos by Nico Roesler.

Placer, a black lab, and Liza, a golden retriever sit on the front of a Shawnee fire truck. Photos by Nico Roesler.

As assistance dog explores the cabin of a Shawnee fire truck.

As assistance dog explores the cabin of a Shawnee fire truck.

Liza, 17-months old, smells a Shawnee fire fighter from a distance during her first introduction to him.

Liza, 17-months old, smells a Shawnee fire fighter from a distance during her first introduction to him.

Young assistance dogs and their trainers visited a Shawnee fire station Saturday and learned all about the sights, sounds and smells associated with first responders they might meet in an emergency situation in the future.

The local Kansas City chapter of Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), which regularly meets at Shawnee’s Johnson County Library, introduced the puppies to fully outfitted firefighters, loud sirens and other first responder equipment. The sight of a fully equipped firefighter might frighten a typical dog, but these dogs need to be used to the site of a first responder so that later in life, when they are licensed assistance dogs, they can cooperate with them to save their person.

“This way the puppy know that this person is here to help,” said local puppy trainer and raiser Lisa Rickards. “Otherwise, they could really make a dog panic.”

Rickards is one of several local trainers that work with CCI to prepare puppies, aged 7 months to 17 months, for advanced training at the CCI headquarters in Delaware, Ohio. Or, as Rickards and others call it, “college.”

Puppy raisers like Rickards must go through an application process through CCI to become eligible to raise these future assistance dogs. CCI has a breeding program that turns over the dogs to puppy raisers after the age of 8 weeks. CCI has been breeding golden retrievers, labradors and mixes of the two for 40 years.

“They’re working breeds,” Rickards said, “and they’re so intelligent. They want dogs that are willing to work, eager to please and easy to motivate.”

Rickards has raised seven puppies for CCI. She is currently working with Liza, a 17-month old labrador and golden mix. Rickards follows a curriculum provided by CCI that teaches the dog basic obedience and socialization. By the time Rickards is done with Liza, she will know 30 basic commands. At advanced training, which lasts another six to nine months, the dogs learn skills like being able to pull a wheelchair, open and close doors and turn off lights. By the time the dogs have completed their training, they are estimated to be worth more than $50,000.

While the puppies come with obvious cuddle appeal, they are always working to fulfill their eventual purpose, to help the disabled and those in need.

Rickards said it’s hard not to develop a bond with the dogs as she raises them. She’s been involved with the organization for 10 years and has raised seven dogs.

“It’s excruciating, you love them and you spend so much time molding them into these wonderful service dogs,” Rickards said. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done but its also one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.”

And CCI doesn’t just take the dogs from the puppy raisers when the dogs are ready, they create a lasting relationship between each dog and its raiser. When the dogs go to “college,” each puppy raiser is sent a monthly report on the dog’s progress all the way to the point where the dog is assigned a person to help. Raisers are even invited to the dogs’ graduation from advanced training.

For more information about CCI, visit their website at www.cci.org.



%d bloggers like this: