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Photo courtesy of John Bentzinger
Photo courtesy of John Bentzinger

For Ozone Park’s Barbara Bocklage, taking on a puppy from Canine Companions for Independence was a no-brainer.

Bockage worked with handicapped children before retirement. Searching for a sense of purpose, she stumbled upon Canine Companions for Independence, a national nonprofit that trains assistance dogs to children, adults and veterans with disabilities at no cost to the recipient, after a conversation with her sister.

“My sister is a volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House. There’s a dog there that came from Canine Companions named Rico,” said Bocklage. “I’ve been wanting a dog, and after my sister spoke with Rico’s owner, she helped me get in contact with her to learn more about the program.”

Canine Companions for Independence places 8-week-old puppies into the homes of puppy raisers where they learn basic commands and socialization skills. Once the dogs are about 1 1/2 years old, they are returned to the Canine Companions for Independence regional headquarters in Medford, NY, where they begin six months of professional training with the organization’s nationally renowned instructors.

After they undergo training, the pups are then matched with a childadult or veteran with disabilities, and spend two weeks at the facility with their recipients. The pups then attend a graduation ceremony where the volunteer puppy raiser is invited to ceremoniously pass the leash off to the new recipient.

“You can give money to any charity, but do you really know where it goes?” Bocklage said. “That’s the best part of Canine Companions. We carry the load and then we get to give the dog to the person who was matched with the dog.”

Bocklage started the application process to receive her puppy, a golden retriever named Kimber, back in September 2017. Once she brought Kimber home, Bocklage was ecstatic and knew that this was meant for her.

“Ever since I retired I was looking for a sense of purpose,” Bocklage said. “I’ve always had dogs and after not having one for 10 years, it was time. After finding Canine Companions, I knew it was right for me.”

Kimber is settling in to her new home amazingly and is really taking to her training. So far Kimber has been with Bocklage at a doctor’s office and at Costco and has behaved wonderfully. Many people in Bocklage’s family are growing attached to the pup.

“My husband didn’t want a dog, but he’s the one who gives her treats for her potty training,” Bocklage said, laughing. “My 23-year-old niece is ecstatic about Kimber. Even my sister, who is highly asthmatic, wants to come over all the time to see the dog.”

Kimber has become quite popular in the neighborhood as well.

“She’s the star of the block,” Bocklage said. “She’s also a man-magnet. I was walking her through the neighborhood once with her little yellow vest on and a man who was working on cement came running over and said, ‘I have to pet this dog!’ She’s the best little girl.”

In the next year or so, Kimber will return to the Canine Companions for Independence headquarters for additional training. Bocklage knows that returning Kimber will be hard, but acknowledges that she will light up the lives of the people she comes in contact with.

“She was the happiest hello and will be the hardest goodbye,” Bocklage said. “Everyone falls in love with her, and I think that has something to do with what her purpose is. It makes everyone light up.”

For more information about becoming a puppy raiser, visit cci.org.

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