Alice & Abel (and 4 other CCI puppies)
I was hesitant to enter this contest because it meant I
would have to reveal a lot of personal things I wasn't sure I wanted to share. But knowing
Golden people are the most loving in the world and how much Abel and the other
CCI puppies I have raised have meant to me, I decided to enter. My life has been changed
by not only one Golden, but five!
I should start off by telling you I have been disabled since September 1987. I have been
on the medical merry go round for most of this time. It all started out as an unrelenting
pain in the lower left side of my abdomen. I have since been through more tests than I
care to mention, Doctors, Specialists, four surgeries, the Mayo Clinic, four weeks in a
pain therapy program, and still don't have definitive answers. At one point, I was
practically immobile which is where the pain therapy program came in and got me back on my
feet. It has been a challenge everyday to stay on them.
I was a tomboy growing up with three brothers who played football, baseball, and
basketball, often with my Dad coaching them. I also took tap, ballet, jazz, acrobatics,
and baton. I married in 1971, and I started having kids in 1974. I have four sons
(including a set of twins in the middle) so being a tomboy really helped then. I always
had an active lifestyle.
As one pain developed into more pain in more places, and my health in general went
downhill, I became more and more depressed. I wasn't able to work anymore and I couldn't
take care of my family. Being obsessive compulsive this was devastating to me. And the
more immobile I became, the more weight I gained which sure didn't help me physically and
didn't do much for my self esteem which was already taking a beating as I became less
My husband worked for Sam's Club which meant we had to relocate a lot. We were in 13
places in 10 years; worse than the military! All the moving around meant I didn't have the
support of friends and family. I had to watch as my sons took on the responsibility for
the house, the cooking, etc. I felt more and more worthless and cut myself off more and
more from the rest of the world. I didn't make friends when we moved because I just didn't
have the energy to be a friend. Plus, I felt I didn't really have anything to offer as a
friend. Eventually, I only went out of the house when I had too.
After our last son moved out of the house in 1998, I really didn't have a reason to get
out of bed anymore. My husband was traveling and only home every other weekend at best.
Around 1989, I had seen a segment on the old Home show about
Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) that I
never forgot. CCI is a non-profit organization that provides service dogs for people
with disabilities. I have always been a dog lover and thought maybe being a volunteer
puppy raiser was something I could do. Having a puppy certainly demands you get out of bed
in the morning and sometimes at night too. I also knew at some point I might need a
service dog of my own so what better way to prepare for that than puppy raising. I had no
idea what a huge difference CCI was to make in my life.
CCI has their own breeding program with Goldens, Labs, and Golden/Lab crosses. Because I
am allergic to dogs (but can't live without them), I told CCI I could only raise Goldens.
Of course this was fine with me because I happen to love them anyway because we had one of
our own, Cinnamon. My non-medical theory is their long hair holds the dander in which is
what causes the allergies. With the short hair dogs, the dander is just flying around
My first puppy, Jessie arrived in Hickory, North Carolina (where we were living then) July
1998 and with him came a whole new world of loving caring people. They didn't judge and
they never expected more of you than you could give. They were always quick to help with
anything. With Jessie I met and made friends with other CCI people from all over North and
South Carolina, as well as all over the southeast. And for the first time in years, I felt
I was giving something back.
Jessie was an amazing big blonde Golden who stayed by my side and did anything I asked of
him. In August 1999, it came time to turn him in for Advanced Training at CCI-NE on Long
Island, New York. I thought I would die. I had also lost our pet dog, Cinnamon, to cancer
while raising Jessie so I went home to an empty house. I wasn't so sure I could stand that
much heartbreak no matter how much I believed in the program but decided to give it a try
again. But the next time I had to turn in, I would be certain I
had another puppy to ease the pain.
Laura arrived in November 1999. She was so smart and such a sweetheart. We moved again;
this time to northern Virginia. Once again, I was welcomed into a whole new circle of
friends in the DC, Virginia and Maryland area, as well as all over the northeast. And once
again, they didn't judge you and were always quick to help one another.
Jessie went on to graduate as a Service Dog in May 2000. I attended his graduation and was
able to meet his new partner. What a feeling to hand over the lead at the graduation
knowing you have given someone an independence they might have never known.
Abel arrived in August 2000. I had been in touch with the CCI breeder/caretaker of his
Sire, OMSI, before the pups were sent out to the puppy raisers. She had seen this litter
of pups and told me there was one pup that had this distinctive ridge between
his eyes she called a Mohawk. I was really hoping to get this one and couldn't have been
more excited when I first saw the chubby little Abel with the Mohawk between his eyes! I
am told if he wanted to be in the show ring this would disqualify him. For me, it's what
makes him unique and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
Laura turned in to CCI-NE for Advanced Training February 2001. Although it was still
heartbreaking, it really helped to have Abel to go home with.
In May 2001, I got a call I never want to get again. They had found a lump on Laura's
tail. They removed it and the biopsy results came back with cancer so the decision had
been made to amputate her tail and she was probably going to be released from CCI. As the puppy raiser, I have first option to get any
released puppy I raise back.
At first thought, you would think I would jump at the chance to get her back and that was
my first instinct. But Laura was so smart and very high energy. She always did everything
I asked of her but she always wanted to be doing something. Over the past couple of years,
my health had deteriorated some so I wasnt sure it was the right decision for me, or
her, to keep her.
There is never any problem finding a home for these wonderful dogs because they are so
well trained. I had three families who were interested in getting her. But all of these
families had working moms so she would be home alone during the day. She had always been
home with someone so I really just didnt feel great about any of the homes. I was
really torn because we did love her a lot so why not keep her.
Then G-d stepped in to help guide things. While raising Laura we were on a CCI outing and
met a family who had a special needs son named Petey. After learning about CCI, the mom,
Margaret, went home and immediately applied for a CCI dog for Petey. She and I became
friends because I tried to offer her support through the application process that can take
up to a year or more. So naturally, she had been helping me through all this with Laura.
She made an offhand comment about Laura that made me realize their family might love to
have her. She has three other children and decided they wanted Laura for them since Petey
would eventually have his CCI dog. As soon as I offered Laura, she immediately said yes.
And from the minute she said yes, I just knew in my heart it was the right thing. So Laura
went to live with them.
To our surprise (though in hindsight I should have thought of this), Laura began to put
her Advanced Training skills to use to help with Petey. So now she is a non-CCI skilled companion for Petey and they are no longer on the list for a
In June 2001, pup #4, Gabe arrived. He was a very blonde boy with lots of confidence. He
is currently in Advanced Training at CCI-NE and we are hoping for his graduation as a
Skilled Companion or possibly a Facility Dog in May 2003.
While raising Abel, we found he was not a very confident dog. What confidence he had
seemed to come from me. When he was not with me, he was looking for me, even when my
husband was handling him. He was not comfortable in crowded, noisy situations. He did
whatever I asked of him but the ears would be back, the tail down, and he was very alert
to everything around him. So I asked the trainers at CCI-NE to evaluate him. They agreed
with my assessment and released him in September 2001, right after the terrorist attack on
There was no question in my mind about keeping him. Frankly, I was as attached to him as
he was to me. I, as many other Americans, was an emotional wreck after 9/11 and knew my
world had completely changed. Abel had become my rock in the uncertainty we all live with
now. Unfortunately, my health started to reflect the additional stress on my life.
But in April 2002, I got a call from CCI-NE about a male Golden puppy that happened to be
Lauras nephew because her brother, Lido, had become a breeder for CCI. CCI was
looking for a puppy raiser for him so I said yes. So Lavar, who became known as Varly,
arrived. What a sweet and goofy boy and I immediately fell in love with him.
Unfortunately, I noticed he had very flaky skin. All this dander was really affecting my
allergies and making me very sick. CCI asked to have him tested for a rare skin condition
called icthyosis. The test came back positive and he was released from CCI. As much as I
wanted to keep him, I just couldnt so I again was faced with the decision of finding
the right home for him. As it turned out, Lauras family decided they wanted him too
so he is happily living a fun and wonderful life with his Aunt Laura. And I count my
blessings once again for having met this wonderful family and I love them all dearly.
With all that had happened over the past year or so my health had been affected and I
began to have more balance issues. Because I had gotten so ill with Varly, I had decided
not to get another puppy from CCI right away. Gabe left for Advanced Training in August
2002 and it was just Abel and I. It was very strange to not have a puppy around but with
only Abel to care for, I realized just how much raising a puppy had been taking out of me.
I had fallen several times over the past year in the house and yard and started to be
afraid to go out on my own. I had noticed a lot of changes in Abel over the past six
months so I decided to start working with him to help me. Abel learned how
to pick things up for me, he learned how to brace to help me get up and down, and most of
all, he is a steadying presence by my side. So I began to go out again with him. Only
recently he has learned to get the phone for me from anywhere in our home. So now if I
fall, I know I will be able to get help.
Abel is still not as confident as I would like but I am seeing improvement with him all
the time. I think of him as a late bloomer. I dont think he would have ever made it
in the kennels had he turned in to CCI so I still feel it was the right decision to
release him. Having known at some point, I would need a dog of my own, I see the hand of
G-d again in sending the little chubby puppy with the Mohawk between his eyes to me.
So five beautiful Goldens and CCI have changed my life for the better. As we are planning
a move to Washington State soon, I have already been in touch with and met some wonderful
CCI people there. With Abel by my side, I feel more confident going out in public and more
comfortable at home knowing I can get help if I need it. I have been blessed to play a
small part in helping others with disabilities by raising CCI puppies. And I'm most
certainly blessed to have made many lifelong friends whom I never would have met had it
not been for CCI and my five amazing Goldens.
Entry written by
Alice Johnson of Stafford, VA
* First Place Award Recipient