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Review for Canine Companions for Independence, Santa Rosa, CA, USA

Rating: 1 stars  

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.

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Role:  Donor