Service dog

Task trained service dog Tasha IV assists Kathy Fitzgerald during a shopping trip. Photo submitted by Kathy Fitzgerald

Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) has provided high quality service dogs to children and veterans with disabilities free of charge since 1975, thanks to generous donors.

“Our service dogs empower individuals with disabilities to lead lives with greater independence and unconditional love,” said Jeanine Konopelski, CCI vice president of marketing and advocacy.

CCI’s support also includes follow-up services for the lifetime of each placement.

“Our professional trainers are exceptional,” Konopelski said. “They are expert problem solvers, support for our graduates and empathetic professionals.”

In November 2015, service dog Tasha IV was paired with Kathy Fitzgerald to assist with daily tasks, provide company and help Fitzgerald increase her independence while navigating life as a quadriplegic.

“She is amazing,” said Fitzgerald of her yellow lab, who knows more than 75 commands. “She does so many things for me that make me feel independent.”

Fitzgerald began the process of getting a service dog in 2013, which culminated in a two-week program in which she was matched with Tasha.

“It was a learning curve for us,” Fitzgerald said. “We had to study the literature on the dog and learn the commands, but we started bonding almost immediately.”

Tasha assists with many tasks, including retrieving things from the floor, getting the mail and opening and closing doors.

“I cannot reach the door to pull it open,” Fitzgerald said. “So. on the command ‘tug,’ Tasha will pull on the rope we have attached to the door handle and open the door for me.”

“Tasha is part of both of our lives,” said Rita Alvarez, Fitzgerald’s caregiver and partner. “She gives me peace of mind. If I wasn’t responding or something happened, Kathy could give Tasha commands to call for help.”

As a working dog, Tasha is highly trained to show restraint, respond to commands and take cues from Fitzgerald.

“If people understood everything service dogs do for people with disabilities, they’d know not to distract her or interfere,” Fitzgerald said.

“We strive to make the world better for people with disabilities, and that’s the mission of Canine Companions,” said Alvarez, who met Fitzgerald through activism, specifically working to get the American Disabilities Act passed.

“There is so much to be proud of in our 46 years,” Konopelski said.

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