Animals At Your Side

How animals open our hearts to a greater Love



Four times a year Canine Companions for Independence celebrates Graduation.  These graduations are a celebration of the new lives of those receiving their assistance dogs…it is also a recognition of those puppies that are leaving their puppy raisers to begin the next stage of their lives in professional training.  Graduations remind all of us as to why we do what we do…they showcase the gratitude, the new lives, and the inexpressible joy of the recipients of these amazing dogs.  The fullness of these ceremonies can’t quite be expressed in words…it is something that has to be experienced.

As someone who has loved animals since she was a little girl, I have had a fascination for working with animals.  But I don’t think it was until I become more immersed in CCI that I really knew what working with animals truly meant.  Animals change lives.  Until one can fully recognize that, I think it is hard for them to really appreciate working with animals.

At this past Graduation, a woman receiving her assistance dog described how now she feels more human…whereas before this she felt almost less than human.  Because of our culture that tells us our value is in what we can do, this beautiful human person felt she was of no value.

These assistance dogs slap our culture’s utilitarian view in the face.  These dogs display to us that our value is not in what we can do, but rather in who we are…in the fact that we are “not just something, but someone.”[1]  Each human being is a person…a person who transcends the goods of this world.

Ask yourself this…when you look at a person, do you see something or someone?

Chris Kittredge Photography

Chris Kittredge Photography

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church 357.


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Have you ever experienced a young child completely fascinated by something as simple as his dad whistling or his mom sneezing?  I use the example of a young child because sometimes as we go through life, we can allow the world to diminish that child-like joy and wonder we once had.  One of the things I love about interacting with animals is that they have this ability in them to spark wonder and bring back that awareness of this amazing world we share.

My current CCI puppy-in-program is quite attentive to sound…in fact, she almost jumped into the TV to join in on what she was hearing.  That attentiveness and complete awe for the simplest things inspires me to share in that wonder.  I am able to appreciate the things that I would have passed by because my pup points them out to me.

I think CCI’s hearing dogs display this ability in a profound way.  Watch this video to see (and hear) what I mean.  And ask yourself this…do I share in this awareness and amazement for the world?  Maybe this video will inspire you to experience the world in a whole new way.

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Dogs are more complex than we sometimes figure.  They have a whole system of communication…the only thing is, is that it’s not in words.  Our dogs are constantly communicating some message.  If we fail to recognize this fact, we may miss some very important information and this may lead to a misinterpretation of behavior.  Sometimes what we think about our dog may not actually be the case.  For example, when we think our dog is “having a good time” playing a game of chase, it may actually be uncomfortable and trying to escape the situation.

As someone who works closely with dogs, it’s my job to pick up on these messages…to recognize what my dogs are telling me via their body language.  Now this got me asking myself…am I this attuned to my neighbor?  Do I recognize the complexity in each person that I encounter?  Or is what I think I know about someone not actually true?

Sometimes we forget that we can’t know everything about someone right off the bat.  We don’t always recognize what’s unspoken…what’s being communicated without words.  We sometimes fit people into a box without taking into consideration the complexity of that individual…the past hurts, the lies, the fears behind an action.

Not everything can be known by listening only with our ears.  We must also listen with our hearts.  In doing so, we will hear the words of the heart…and will be able to respond to what that person truly needs.  We will let go of generalizations and recognize the depth of each person.  We will be attuned to what’s being communicated to us beneath the surface…what we are being told beyond our assumptions.

“Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.”[1]

[1] St. Benedict

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Remember the poem, “The Giving Tree”?  We’ve all pretty much heard it at least once in our lives (usually when we are young kids).  Well, I was reminded of it the other day…and as I listened to it, I was surprised by how much beauty is in this one little poem.

What really stood out to me was how the tree was ‘happy’ in giving itself to the boy.  “’Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.’  And the boy did.  And the tree was happy.”  This doesn’t just apply to the tree in the poem, but I would say it applies to all creation…including the animals.

If we look back at the Garden, the animals were living with Adam.  The animals did not have a separate area distinct from the first man.  Man and animal lived together, and they were made to live together.  The animals were made to be with man.

It was not supposed to end with God bringing the animals to man, man was to bring the animals back to God.  The animals could approach God by fulfilling their nature in reproduction, locomotion, and sensation.  But without man they cannot be complete, they cannot fully participate in a likeness to God.

Man can take in the animals through his physical senses and make it spirit through his intellect.  Through conscious awareness, man lifts the animals back to God.  It is man that gives voice to the animals.  Man is the representative of all creation.[1]

Like the tree in the poem, an animal’s highest ‘happiness’ is with man.  Given that the animal is granted what is needed to fully live, an animal is truly ‘happy’ serving man.  So, do you know where man finds his highest happiness?


[1] See Fr. Michael Gaitley, The One Thing is Three, 66-71

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Guess what Saturday was?!  Puppy class Saturday!  And I must say, I’m quite proud of my girl…let me tell you why.  Each puppy raiser asked their dog to do a “down stay” in the middle of the room and then stepped away.  This continued until there is what you could describe as a blob of dogs in the center of the room.  With puppy raisers on the outskirts, the class instructor walked in and out of the “dog blob” with all sorts of fun and enticing items (might I just say the dogs find her fun in and of herself).  There was a toy pig that walked around and oinked, a toy hedgehog that honked like a goose when squeezed, and one of those “old school” Fisher-Price corn popper push toys…just to name a few.

So as the instructor walked around with each of these items, the dogs were able to practice remaining in their “down” amidst distractions (something they will face in the “real world”). Now let me enter my pup into the story.  During the entire “down stay” my pup was wagging her tail, quite fascinated by each of the items…for her, they were very “fun and enticing.”  It was clear that she would have very much enjoyed going up to explore any one of them.  But she stayed in her down during all of it (and remember she’s on her own out there, I’m not next to her).

It was just so striking to watch her…you could describe her as being filled with such joy and control at the same time. What she did demonstrated that self-control does not equal dismay or gloominess…she showed me that self-control and joy go together.  We can remain joyful while having to undergo a trial.  And in doing so, we can bring those around us to joy.

We can live out these words: “Act in such a way that all those who come in contact with you will go away joyful…Go through life like a little child, always trusting, always full of simplicity and humility, content with everything, happy in every circumstance.”[1]

Seeing the paradox of my pup wagging her tail while holding her down left me joyful.  Imagine the impact that we can have on others when we remain joyful amidst the trials of this life.  So when our patience is tested or we are facing trials, may we respond with control and joy.

“Do you want to be great?  Start with what is small.”[2]

[1] St. Faustina

[2] St. Augustine

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In my last post I described how as a puppy raiser you will hand over the leash so that dog can continue on in becoming an assistance dog.  Most of us puppy raisers, however, will start the process all over…going back to the basics with a new 8-week old puppy.  Now, we don’t know what this new pup’s ‘personality’ is going to be like…whether raising this pup is going to be a breeze or a rude awakening (I’m exaggerating here, but sometimes it feels this way).  Just to give you an example, some pups sleep soundly during their first nights while others need to be taken out several times throughout the night (and this is accompanied by very high-pitched screeches to alert you to this fact).

So with each new CCI puppy, comes a completely different ‘personality’ with different strengths and weaknesses than the previous puppy.  Sometimes with the more “challenging” pups, you can catch yourself wishing that you could hand over the leash sooner (of course that thought lasts only but a moment).  If you missed my post “What I Learned Over the Weekend Was…” I recommend you check that one out.

Each pup has taught me something new or led me to see things in a new way (especially those more “challenging” pups).  I didn’t choose the pups that I ended up with…but each of them has contributed something special to my life.

Sometimes we don’t get to choose who ends up in our lives, but we can choose what we’re going to do about it.  We can choose to desire the best for someone even when we’re “not feeling it.”  We can choose to go past the annoyances and go for the treasure.  By not giving up on any of my pups, I was able to not only contribute something to each individual dog, but each individual dog contributed something to me.  If I could go back and choose which pup came into my life, I would personally choose each of the dogs that were chosen for me.

We have been chosen – “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16) – and in return we can choose to love.

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My Gift To You

When it comes to raising a puppy to become an assistance dog, you will face the inevitable event of “giving the dog up.”  As volunteer puppy raisers we welcome a CCI puppy into our homes when the pup is only 8 weeks old, and then spend the next year and a half guiding that pup along in its process of becoming an assistance dog.  The dog, then, goes to live at CCI for 6 months to complete its training and be matched with the right person.  {Side note: If it is not in the best interest of the dog to become an assistance dog, that dog will become what we refer to as a “change of career dog.”}

As a puppy raiser, you will not only face the inevitable event of “giving the dog up,” but you will face the inevitable question of “how can you give them up?” (on numerous occasions, I might add).  There are many responses to this question…but for this post I will focus on one.

I receive each of these dogs as a gift, and in return I get to give each of these dogs as a gift.  I’m reminded of a quote that goes, “If Cinderella says, ‘How is it that I must leave the ball at twelve?’ her godmother might answer, ‘How is it that you are going there till twelve?’”[1]

How is it that I can give this dog away?  How is it that I get to have this dog in the first place?  I see it as a gift that I get to develop a bond with one of these pups.  I then want to share that gift with someone else…someone else who can appreciate this dog even more than I am able to.

The act of giving away a dog, that in a sense has become a part of me, helps me to give myself away as a gift.  Perhaps you are asking yourself, “Give yourself as a gift…what does that mean?”  It means, that all that we have been given is a gift (our existence, our loved ones, our talents, our material goods), and we are not to keep those things all to/for ourselves.  We are to love without holding back, even when it hurts…even when it requires giving up something we want to hold onto.  That hurt will turn into joy when we see what comes from it…when we see the new life of a person who has just received an assistance dog.

Here’s a light-hearted public service announcement for Canine Companions for Independence…enjoy!

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy