Man’s Best Friend


Golden Retriever Lab Franklin is a therapy dog for students all through out Zionsville.

By Kailey Wallenius, Staff

In modern times, there are many factors that can cause a teenager stress. School, sports, jobs, and friends. Managing stress is very important, and one of the best ways to do that is to visit with Franklin.

Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) is a non-profit organization who trains dogs to be able to work with people who have disabilities. The dogs are born, raised and trained through CCI to work through specific areas of the field. The organization was made to help people with the needs only canines can provide.

“The concept of assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities began with Canine Companions for Independence in 1975 in a home office and a garage,” Pittman said.

The training process for the dogs is extensive and allows only the most qualified dogs to be put with people.

“CCI breed the dogs in CA.  Once they are about 8 weeks old, they are shipped to volunteer puppy raisers all over the US.  (Franklin’s was in MI.)  They spend about 18 months with the puppy raisers,” ZCHS Physical Therapist Bree Pittman said.  “CCI checks in with the puppy raisers to make sure they are progressing as expected. It not, they may discontinue the program.  Then they go to advanced training at one of the six national training centers in the U.S   and spend about 6-9 months going through that process.  The dogs who complete the advanced training are then matched with recipients during a one to two week team training process that is held at one of the national training centers.

There are many different breeds of dogs that can go through the program, but the main breeds are Labradors, because they are known for being well-behaved and easy to train.

“Franklin is a Golden Retriever Lab mix.  He is the only CCI facility dog that works with me,” Pittman said.

The dogs are trained to care for specific needs and are all placed with the recipient who reflects those needs.

“Franklin has been trained to complete over 40 commands. He interacts with the students by demonstrating some of the skills that my students are working on (such as stairs, hurdles, playground equipment, jumping, etc…),” Pittman said. “He can also be a positive distraction … if a child is having a behavioral or trouble with transitions, Franklin may assist in helping them by being a good distraction).”

Franklin is taken to many different areas in Zionsville and interacts with many different people.

“I work in many different classrooms, as well as modified/adaptive PE class, adaptive music class, playground, developmental and universal preschool, etc… We also go to the pool, but Franklin doesn’t get in,” Pittman said.

Although Franklin does come to the high school, there are only a few students who interact with him.

“All of the students on my caseload who receive PT may have the opportunity to work with Franklin,” Pittman said.

According to the CCI, their dogs don’t just work with disabled people. There are hearing dogs, service dogs, skilled companions, and dogs who work to help veterans. They are al trained differently, and all effect lives in a better way.

“Canine Companions dogs are trained to perform a variety of tasks, and we place our dogs in teams that will utilize their training and celebrate their spirits,” the CCI website said.

The CCI has been working on making new ways to improve the ways dogs can help people. Over 40 new commands have been taught to the dogs to increase the productivity of their service.

“We are excited to explore new ways to predict service dog success through analysis of behavioral data and building predictive models,” states Dr. Brenda Kennedy, Canine Companions’ director of canine health and research.