MONTVILLE, NJ – After Montville resident Ron Angus’ disabled wife died, he wanted to help others who are disabled in her memory. Many know about Seeing Eye® dogs, but service dogs are needed for those who are disabled in other ways. He decided to become a puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence.
Three-month-old puppy Hen See is a golden retriever-yellow Labrador mix and will live with Angus for about two years while he socializes her and teaches her 30 commands. Angus says she’s already learned about five. She also has to go to “puppy school.”
Angus’ wife Betty was born with no arms, and had one of the first helping-hand dogs in the country with her first husband, Len. Len passed away and after Angus sold his house, he needed to rent a room, and wound up renting from Betty.
“I offered to cook for her, but she told me I didn’t need to,” said Angus. "She could do anything."
“I started out renting from her month-to-month, but then I married my landlady!” he said with a laugh.
Angus and his wife were married for seven years, but she passed away last year. After her passing, he found Canine Companions for Independence and decided to sign up in order to honor her memory.
“I traveled to Long Island to pick up Hen See in June,” Angus said. “She slept the whole way back to Montville, so that worked out well.”
This is the first puppy that Angus has raised for CCI. The first few months, Angus has to keep Hen See around the home, but then she’ll be out and about.
“In a couple of months, I can bring her to places, like Jacksonville Chapel, where I’m a member,” he said.
In the meantime, there’s lots to learn.
“I have to teach her regular puppy things and to not be distracted by things going around her,” he said. “She can never accept ‘people food.’ So far she loves to pick things up but she needs to learn to drop things. But she will.”
After the two year socialization period, Hen See will have to leave Angus and go back to the Northeast Region headquarters on Long Island for six more months of advanced training. There she’ll learn more commands that are helpful to those with disabilities, including retrieving items, pulling wheelchairs, turning light switches on and off, and opening and closing doors. Instructors at the headquarters will evaluate her, and based on the her strengths, she will be matched with someone.
There is a two-week training period for dog and recipient, followed by a graduation ceremony that the puppy raisers are invited to, explained John Bentzinger of CCI’s Northeast Region.
“Up on stage, diplomas are handed out and the leashes are ceremoniously handed over from the puppy raiser to the new grad team,” Bentzinger said. “It is incredibly emotional.”
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees Hen See will make the cut.
“CCI’s standards are exceedingly high,” Bentzinger said. “Only about 4 out of 10 dogs actually make it through this program, so the ones that graduate really are the cream of the crop.”
But meanwhile, there is a year and a half wait to be matched with a dog, Bentzinger said, and nationally there are more than 400 people waiting.
CCI dogs help recipients overcome physical, psychological and social barriers, helping them lead more independent lives, according to CCI’s literature. Assistance dogs serve people with a wide range of disabilities, including those affected by multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, stroke, hearing loss, developmental delay and more. CCI also places dogs with veterans.
Angus is also helping to raise money for his puppy, because each one costs more than $50,000 to breed and raise, at no cost to the recipient. Those interested can mail donations to CCI at 286 Middle Island Road, Medford, NY 11763 and mark the check in memory of Betty Angus, or for more information on helping to breed or raise puppies, please visit Canine Companions.