Kudos to CCI!!! CCI is a wonderful organization. We have seen first hand how it has helped our son who lost his leg in Iraq. The service dog he received is very helpful to him and is his constant companion. We saw a change in our son immediately after he received his "companion" from CCI. They are now inseparable and go almost everywhere together. It is one of the best things that has happened to our son since his injury. I hope CCI will continue to help other severely injured "heroes" of our US Military. Thank you to all especially the volunteers who spend endless hours training the special dogs. What an awesome way for the volunteers and CCI to give back to these brave men and women who have sacrificed themselves for our freedom.
CCI is the Cadillac of the service dog industry.
I have volunteered as a puppy raiser, breeder caretaker, and board member for over 20 years and know first hand the miracles that these highly trained dogs work in the lives of their disabled partners. They do not charge the recipients for these valuable dogs, who also receive a lifetime of follow up and support.
After much agonizing over the many worthy charities listed by the Pittsburgh Foundation for its Day of Giving, my daughter chose Canine Companions for Independence, as she was touched by the work and testimonials of many people who have helped disabled people by providing trained assistance dogs.
Sadly though, despite this charity being listed as a non-profit available for matching funds on its web site [ http://pittsburghgives.org/?cat=3&s='' ], we were unable to donate as the Pittsburgh Foundation stated it as unavailable for donating. This was heartbreaking for my daughter, as she looked so forward to give, with the promised matching funds by the Pittsburgh Foundation. If the Pittsburgh Foundation no longer feels that this charity was worthy of receiving donations, I wish it had not listed it as one of the ones available.
I was a puppy raiser and a donor for over 7 years. I raised 5 puppies. While I still support the mission to place service dogs with
people with disabilities, I stopped raising puppies for CCI and no longer support the organization via financial donations.
CCI is a very large, in my opinion insular organization. There are some lovely people who work there, who greatly care for the graduate recipients and the dogs they place. This was not my experience with the leadership, who seem unwilling or unable to acknowledge many of the volunteers and to communicate with them in an open and empathic way. I know many former puppy raisers who left feeling hurt and unappreciated by the leadership at CCI and by the graduate recipients of the dogs they lovingly raised.
In the region I volunteered in, there is a group of
volunteers, along with staff in the development department, and several members of the regional board who I, and other volunteers experienced as quite condescending and
rude. I had several personal experiences of being on the receiving end of their bad behavior.
The organization did require
volunteers sign an acknowledgement of expected behavior but while there seems to be a policy on paper, it did not come to fruition in real life. This is the case in other aspects of how the organization is run. CCI provides NO information to a puppy raiser about a dog they raised, once the dog graduates. According to the northwest program manager in an email to me, the exception to this is to let the raiser know when the dog is retired and when the dog dies. I found out quite by accident via a social media page that the first dog I had raised, had been retired, a year previous to the post on facebook. CCI once again did not follow their own policy. No one from the organization contacted me when the dog was retired. Their lack of empathy, the lack of the desire, to extend simple courtesy to me as a volunteer who raised the pup for close to two years, is sad. It just does not matter to those in leadership how anyone feels!
The situation with the development staff and other volunteers while unkind, and annoying, was certainly a manageable one in the broad scheme of things, to serve such a wonderful mission. Sometimes certain people just do not get along and often in life it is best to just stay away from people like this.
The situations where the organization did not follow their own policies was a bit more concerning to me. The longer I stayed with CCI the more I developed concern for the care and handling of some
of the graduate dogs. If the organization was not following policies regarding volunteers and puppy raisers, why would I expect they would do so regarding the graduate dogs?
Most of the graduate teams I met were nice people, who tried their best
to do what CCI had taught them about handling their dog so the team
worked optimally and they met the standards claimed by CCI and those set
by ADI (assistance dogs international). Unfortunately, I also had experience observing dogs not being cared for, nor handled according to these standards. One graduate told me she does not follow CCI rules regarding handling of
her dog unless the CCI trainers were around and in fact I observed her
doing just that, placing her dog in a situation that could have brought
harm to the dog. To me this was disrespectful to puppy raisers, trainers, everyone who worked to get the dog ready for her. But more importantly it was really unfair to the
dog. At the most basic of levels the graduates should be expected to keep their dogs safe from harm.
Shortly after leaving CCI, I received a survey from the national program manager asking about my experience with CCI. When I responded, I was honest, expressing my feelings about the way I, and other volunteers were
treated by some staff and board members. I also conveyed my observations and concern over the care and handling of some of the graduate dogs. I never received a reply from him.
It is important to me that the organization I raise for and financially support be able to not just place large numbers of dogs but that they ensure that all the dogs they place are
handled appropriately and cared for with love and respect once they
leave CCI. The fact that the national program manager never responded to my correspondence about the care of graduate dogs is not acceptable to me, and actually solidified in my mind that my decision stop raising and donating to support CCI was the right one. Maybe my concerns were founded, maybe not, but it seems important for someone in
authority at the organization to at the very least pursue such a matter when it is brought
to their attention. If only to acknowledge the communication and ask which teams there was concern for, so they could follow up. It would have been inappropriate
for me to say something to a graduate about the handling of a dog.
However, CCI staff has a responsibility to be sure all the dogs are cared
for, respected and handled
appropriately. I believe I followed appropriate channels. CCI did nothing. How effective the program is cannot be judged only by how they spend their money and the number of dogs placed.
Raising puppies for service dog work is very rewarding. I would suggest that anyone who wants to participate in volunteering this service look at other organizations than CCI, there are many.
I would suggest that you ask specific questions about how the organization
trains their dogs. One thing I heard many times at CCI is that no dog is forced to
work if they don't want to. However, they do use traditional training techniques including a forced retrieve. For some dog lovers wishing to volunteer as puppy raisers this and some other training practices used may be outside their comfort level. The longer I stayed and the more I learned, the less comfortable I was with some of the practices used. These types of decisions tend to be very personal choices. I am not making a judgement about CCI's training practices, they are the professionals and I respectfully defer to them. I am only making a decision about my comfort level. I heard lots of things at CCI, but what was said and what was actually done were many times two very different things.
Overall, I do think my service was important and changed the lives of the people who received the puppies I raised. I am looking for another organization to volunteer for and continue my service toward this mission. Hopefully wiser for my experience with the last one.
Review from CharityNavigator
CCI is outstanding! The organization I work for loves to donate and support their work because we appreciate what they do and know that the money is being used responsibly. CCI provides well bred and well trained dogs to people who need them. Keep up the great work!!!