By Gayla Cruikshank

My husband and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary and we are empty nesters. I selfishly wanted to find a way to volunteer that wouldn’t take too much time away from home, since we love enjoying quiet time on our back porch with dinner and wine.

I have made so many connections participating in the Susan G. Komen Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day since 2005 and working as the full-time Local Market Coordinator since 2013, I was bound to bump into the right person at the right time. I noticed a past 3-Day coach and recent volunteer, Lacey W., worked for an organization with DOGS (I love dogs) called Canine Companions for Independence. After giving her a call and receiving some serious encouragement, I spent hours looking through their website, and their YouTube channel learning what Canine Companions for Independence does and how I could contribute.

“Canine Companions for Independence is a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing
support to ensure quality partnerships.”

The link that caught my eye was, “Become a Volunteer Puppy Raiser.” Volunteer puppy raisers take care of the organization’s specially bred puppies, bringing them into their home to nurture them and take them to obedience classes to help turn it into a future assistance dog. I applied to be a puppy raiser, interviewed, passed the home visit and was approved! I attended a few puppy classes to see what I was getting myself into and fell in love with the puppies (of course – who wouldn’t?) and the organization. I got the call that I would be receiving a puppy from the “O” litter in August 2018 from Santa Rosa, CA, where the Canine Companions for Independence Headquarters and breeders/caretakers are located. I immediately started nesting just like any new mom does. I purchased a kennel, exercise pen, leashes, collars, puppy food, toys, you name it!


The Puppy Manager at the Canine Companions for Independence South Central Region called to tell me I was going to receive “ORINDA IV” on August 9th. She’s a Golden Lab Cross – a cross between a Golden Retriever and a Black Labrador Retriever. I picked her up from the Kinkeade Campus in Irving and brought her home to meet her temporary pack, Bendi (my 10-year old Yorkshire Terrier) and Lady (my 10-year old rescued yellow Labrador Retriever).

As a volunteer puppy raiser, I’m tasked with training and socializing Orinda through a scheduled program for 18 months. She will learn 30 commands, basic obedience and socialization during the time she lives with me. Once she matriculates into professional training on February 14, 2020, she will live at the South Central Kinkeade Campus at Baylor Scott & White in Irving where she’ll learn advanced commands like opening doors, pulling wheelchairs, turning on lights, picking up keys, taking laundry out of the dryer, and much more. She will be trained and matched with someone at the end of her 6-9 months of training and will undergo team training once matched. She will live with the individual and family in the Campus cabins for an intense two weeks of training to learn how she can assist the new handler. She could be placed as a service dog for someone with a disability in a wheelchair, a skilled companion for a child with a disability, a facility dog for an organization that needs a skilled therapy dog, or matched with a disabled veteran with PTSD or another disability.

Something else that I learned while volunteering for Canine Companions for Independence is that one of their directors successfully partnered with Event 360 in 2010 with PetSmart Charities! Coincidence? I don’t think so. Just another example of how small our world is.

Canine Companions for Independence has a few slogans, such as, “Give a Dog a Job,” but the one that I love is, “Raise a puppy, change a life.” Little did I know that my life is the one being changed!

Gayla Cruikshank is the Local Market Coordinator for the Susan G. Komen Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day. After participating and volunteering with the Komen 3-Day from 2005-2009, she became an Event 360 staff member in 2010. She is deeply rooted in the DFW 3-Day community and a native Texan to the core. She and her husband enjoy time together with their daughters, son-in-law, two dogs and a consistent future of raising CCI puppies.

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