Raising Puppies, Training Dogs, Changing Lives

Nikita and her dogThanks to an estraordinary dog, Nikita's just an ordinary kid.

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You see them at the malls, in the grocery store and in the library. Those beautiful young pups are being raised to be the ears, hands and legs of their eventual partners—people with disabilities who need an assistance dog to help them with tasks that are physically challenging. Imagine not being able to open doors, pick up your keys or turn on a light switch. What if you could not hear the cry of your baby or a smoke alarm?

And the person behind the program for more than 17 years is Corey Hudson, SSU graduate, who is CEO of Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a nationwide organization that provides service dogs to assist persons with many kinds of disabilities. It is a perfect match. Devotion to service is Hudson’s nature, just as it is the nature of the organization itself and the animals they breed, train and match with individuals whom they empower to live more fully.

Corey Hudson and dogCEO of Canine Compainions for Independence Corey Hudson finds many perks to his job, one of which is being around loving dogs waiting to assist their new owners.

Hudson says he has applied a standard at CCI where training programs are tailored to the needs of the individual. “We ask the person being served what they need, how a dog could help them. Do they need a companion to hear the doorbell and alert them, or nudge them when someone says their name? Or do they drop things many times a day and need a dog trained to pick them up and give them back?”

The fledgling organization Hudson joined in 1991 has solidified its presence in five regions across the U.S., the better to serve clients and volunteers who breed and raise the dogs. With a $13 million budget and $40 million in assets, CCI is on solid ground and still growing. Their current capital campaign is raising money to replace a former hog barn on Long Island, NY with a modern and comfortable training center for dogs and clients.

The goal of CCI is to build partnerships between the person and animal, teaching the person how to handle the professionally-trained dog so that the human and dog work together as a team and the dog can effectively assist with the things that many of us take for granted such as moving through a house, grocery shopping or safely enjoying a walking trail. They are graduated as a team—both owner and canine—giving clients something they can take charge of for themselves.

“Clients tell us, ‘I feel so much more confident now, I don’t know why,’ or ‘I was able to get a job for the first time.’ Stories that are really almost spiritual in nature,” Hudson says, hesitant to use the word, but aware of its appropriateness.

Amanda and her dogFor Amanda, help is a four-legged word.

Prior to Canine Companions for Independence, Hudson worked with disabled kids in the California state hospital system, moving into administration as a clinical director and hospital administrator. During that time, he also got his master’s degree and four teaching credentials at Sonoma State.

“My instructors were of the highest quality,” he says, “inspiring in so many ways. People really cared if you got through the program.” That same type of care goes into his work with Canine Companions.

And the job suits Hudson just fine. “I need to go home at night and know I have done something for someone else,” he says. “Life is not just about yourself.”