A Miracle in the Making: Canine Companions for Independence Clup at McDaniel College

Colleen McCarrick
Staff Reporter

Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) is a national non-profit organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities.

Their motto is “Some people wait a lifetime for a miracle; we raise them one at a time.” With the unique combination of hard work, dedicated students, sacrifice, commitment and love, McDaniel College is raising their very own miracle: Kaya.

Kaya seems like a typical puppy who loves to chew toys and toes, to meet new people and playmates, and to take long naps. But the green tattoo behind Kaya’s ear sets her apart from most puppies. It shows that in just a few short years, her life will be far from normal. Kaya has just embarked on a remarkable journey through CCI that will result in making miracles happen.

This nine week old White Labrador mix is considered a “puppy-in-training” for the Canine Companions for Independence Club. Through the CCI, Kaya will be trained to perform special services for an individual whose life will be changed in wonderful and miraculous ways.

Sophomore Abigail Vickers is the founder of McDaniel College’s chapter of Canine Companions for Independence. She and the residents of 127 PA Avenue are the caretakers and trainers of Kaya. Vickers, who plans to major in biology and pre-vet, has been involved with CCI for several years.

Vickers’ Girl Scout Gold Award project was training a puppy named Pinello. Pinello is now making miracles happen in Pennsylvania for a thirty year old man, Eric, who has a degenerative nerve disease. After raising Pinello, Vickers realized that she wanted to do it again. She subsequently adopted a puppy named Caroline, whom she recently handed over for advanced training.

Last fall, when Vickers started as a freshman at McDaniel, life without a dog was a big adjustment: “I’ve grown up with dogs all my life. It felt really empty.” Vickers took it upon herself to bring a little piece of home with her to McDaniel by starting start CCI on campus.

This year, McDaniel College’s Canine Companions for Independence club was able to receive permission to raise an assistance dog on campus. Vickers said that she had to jump through “a lot of loopholes” to get permission to bring a dog to campus. “Most people don’t understand the difference between a dog and an assistance dog,” she explained. In the beginning of September, Vickers picked up Kaya and brought her to her new home: McDaniel College.

Eight members of the Canine Companions for Independence Club reside together in McDaniel Affinity Housing. All of the residents share the responsibility of taking care of Kaya. She needs to be let out in the early morning, fed breakfast at 7am, played with at various times during the day, occasionally taken to the veterinarian, and brought to Puppy Training classes once a month. Despite the extra work, McDaniel senior and CCI member Sarah McGraw admits that having Kaya “brings home to campus. She brings everyone together and gives everyone responsibility.”

Kaya will be in this stage of “puppy raising” for the next year and a half. Kaya’s innocent bites, adorable barks and playful jumps are irresistibly cute. But for the residents at 127 PA Avenue, even little misbehaviors cannot be tolerated. Posted on the wall of the campus house is a list of the commands that the trainers are expected to teach Kaya. Her training program requires that she learn and master basic commands such as her name, hurry, sit, let’s go, kennel, wait, and shake by the age of six months. Vickers said that it is also important to socialize Kaya with different people and in a variety of situations so that “she learns what she can and cannot do.”

When Kaya is between the age of fifteen and eighteen months, she will be returned to the regional CCI center for six months of advanced training. The green tattoo, which will eventually fade, will serve to identify her among the other dogs in training.

Canine Companions for Independence trains four types of assistance dogs: Service dogs, who are partnered with adults with physical disabilities to assist with daily tasks, Facility dogs who are trained to assist in physical therapy, Skilled Companion dogs, who are work with either a disabled child or adult under the guidance of a facilitator, and Hearing dogs, who alert partners to key sounds by making physical contact. Vickers does not let know what type of assistance dog Kaya will be.

Even though Kaya is now just an adorable little puppy who falls asleep on your lap, snores and has “puppy dreams”, she will one day make dreams come true as an assistance dog. Her training and experience at 127 PA Avenue is preparing her to help a disabled person lead a confident and fulfilled life. Someday, her unqualified love and uncompromising loyalty will be the miracle in someone’s life.

McDaniel’s Canine Companions for Independence Club meets every other Thursday at 7 pm at 127 PA Avenue. The club is looking for donations to help cover the costs of raising and training Kaya. Donated money will go towards puppy food, toys, treats, vet bills (which cost approximately $670/year), medications (eye drops, ear drops, shampoo), household cleanup supplies for accidents, and gas money for traveling to and from obedience classes. Any contribution is greatly appreciated. Money can be donated in cash or check made out to Canine Companions for Independence. Please contact Abigail Vickers at adv001@mcdaniel.edu for more information.