Sit. Stay. Give.

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Independence is one of the best gifts you can give someone. As a family, volunteer to train a puppy to be a service dog for someone in need. Jessica Leon, a local teen, gives her firsthand experience of the pure joy of giving back.

Written by Jessica Leon (17) of Orlando, volunteer for eight years

I love that my family raises service dogs because we learn something new from each dog. Although we often find it hard to identify which black lab is in what picture, they each had contrasting personalities, making it great to know them. In many ways, I believe that we benefit just as much as the clients who get to receive these animals. The experience is rewarding.

Service dogs in training are puppies that are raised by volunteers who take them to puppy classes and teach them house manners and public etiquette. When they are around 16 to 19 months, the dogs are returned to the organization and begin their formal training. The service dogs aid adults and kids with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities.

Not only do we get to have puppies, typically around eight weeks old, there is a feeling of accomplishment when one of our dogs gets placed. We cried when our first dog, Tribute, left, but we had a new ball of fur at our feet that needed our attention and desperately desired it.

During a puppy outing, we got to hear Bill, a client, express the value in what we do. He described how much his companion had changed his life, how he had regained his independence. Of course, that’s what every volunteering family hopes to hear. We’d assumed Bill had been paralyzed his entire life. We were shocked when his wife later told us that he’d been a fireman just a couple of years ago. While on top of the truck, a hose was turned on, and the immense pressure of it knocked him to the ground. His dog that he talked so much about was born on the very day of his accident. We had goose bumps. We still get goose bumps whenever we tell this story of a man who went from helping people every day of his life to needing help himself. And it wasn’t the accident that he talked about — it was the dog. Whenever I am missing one of our dogs, I think about Bill and his story. I couldn’t imagine life without a service dog in training.

We take for granted the independence our bodies provide, and this is a way a family can come together and work to help others. Locally, Canine Companions for Independence is always seeking volunteer puppy raisers. Visit the organization at www.cci.org or call 407-522-3300 and give someone his independence.

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