Top: Dambra and Duffy, their first CCI dog. Below: Even grocery shopping is a training opportunity.
Dambra balances raising a service dog and work
By Amanda Cairo
“It’s really up to the dog whether they want to work or not.”
If Birdie passes the test and decides to go to work, she will be matched to a person with a disability – free of charge.
For Birdie, coming to work is all about socializing, meeting new people and experiencing new situations. She might be considered a questionable employee by some standards, but as a possible future Canine Companion for Independence, or CCI service dog, the yellow lab is working her way to the head of the class.
A familiar sight on campus, Birdie is accompanied by Claudia Dambra, who is a volunteer puppy raiser for CCI and a College of Agricultural and Life Sciences financial technician. Dambra enjoys bringing Birdie with her around the university and the Moscow area.
“She’s pretty well-known around campus,” said Dambra. “She really enjoys it, and she’s got a fan club.”
Birdie is the second CCI puppy raised by Dambra and her husband, Mike, both alums. Puppies are picked up at two-months old and stay with a puppy-raising-family to get socialized and learn 30 commands. At about 18-months old, they go for advanced training.
“They’re really the best of the best,” said Dambra. “And they are such a joy to be around.”
While Dambra had been interested in the idea of service dogs for several years, it was after the loss of a family dog several years ago and an encounter with a puppy raiser that helped her take action.
“We do get attached to these dogs; they are so wonderful,” said Dambra. “But the ultimate goal is to help them serve others, and we’re so happy to be a part of that process.”
Dambra said though she can’t have Birdie at work with her due to the structure of her office, she brings Birdie on campus to meet new people and experience a number of new situations. In the afternoon, Birdie “works” with Mike at his business, Powell Plumbing. She even has students and community members who drop by to say hello.
And it’s not just Birdie. Last year, Dambra and her husband raised Duffy, who was later chosen to become a breeder due to her excellent temperament and attributes. Duffy visited the Dambras after having her first litter of pups in California.
“It’s a great organization that takes good care of the dogs and provides such valuable service to people with disabilities,” said Dambra. “It is fun to be part of the CCI family and wonderful network of puppy raisers.”
Birdie recently returned to the CCI campus in Santa Rosa, Calif., for formal training with professionals who will determine whether she’s suited to be a service dog. Dambra said only about 50 percent of the dogs graduate and become service animals because of the high standards required to become a CCI service dog.
“It’s really up to the dog whether they want to work or not,” said Dambra. “There are so many factors that go into whether or not a dog becomes a companion animal, but one of the most important factors is whether the dog wants to work.”
If Birdie passes the test and decides to go to work, she will be matched to a person with a disability – free of charge. The pair will then be evaluated and train together for two weeks before they graduate as a working “team.”
In the end, if Birdie decides she’s not a working dog, she will be released from the program to a good home determined by CCI. As her puppy raisers, the Dambras have the first option to adopt her, which they would do with open hearts.
The Dambras are beginning the process all over again with their new CCI puppy, Princess, as they wait with anticipation for updates on Birdie’s progress.