TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Just like with any graduation, there are tears, hugs, and kisses. Only this time the graduates have four legs and long tongues.
The Canine Companions for Independence recently held a graduation for its service dogs. These dogs are paired with people with mobility issues or have trouble communicating.
News Channel 8’s Puppy With A Purpose, Max, is part of the CCI network of dogs. He will stay with his puppy raiser for a year and a half, and then he will head to a more specific training based on the needs of the person or people he will assist.
Will Gathrow from St. Petersburg uses an iPad to help him talk with others.
“I can understand everything, but I use this program to talk because my speech is hard to understand,” states the computer-generated voice after Gathrow types in the words.
Gathrow has just been paired with his skilled companion named Hesston.
“I am excited, and I feel like I have a new best friend,” Gathrow said.
Will’s mother Kathy knows this dog will be a help to their whole family. “We’ve been longing for this for five years, a dream come true,” she remarked.
Will found out about CCI and the assistance dog program and wrote to the organization. In the letter he cited one of the ways he hopes Hesston will help him. “With my socks,” he said.
Dogs like Hesston are skilled companions, but CCI also trains facility dogs. These are animals that offer a special kind of support. Now that he’s graduated, Loren will spend time with kids at an emotional time in their lives.
“He’ll help with kids when they go to closed-circuit testimonies, so when kids are testifying against say their abuser, he will kind of just relax them,” explained Dayle Urquhart with Voices for Children of Tampa Bay. “He will serve kids in foster care. He’ll go to the courthouse as well as Mary Lee’s House,” she continued. Mary Lee’s House is a center for child protection and advocacy in Tampa.
Loren will now join Tibet, another CCI facility dog, at the Hillsborough County Courthouse, sometimes just walking through the waiting room to soothe anxiety.
“It’s unbelievable to see the change in these kids when they know that somebody’s there and somebody has their back,” said Urquhart.
As these new graduates start their purpose, they have already earned a special place in the hearts of those they serve.