By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff Writer
Lilly Mitsui sent Falcon, her third puppy raised to become a service dog, to “graduate school” in the spring.
This month, she and her husband flew to Santa Rosa to see Falcon graduate from his final training, and to meet the person he’d been matched with — all of this thanks to Canine Companions for Independence.
CCI is a nationwide company that specializes in providing service dogs for people with a variety of needs. These dogs, valued at $50,000 after graduating from training, are provided to those with disabilities at no cost.
Mitsui said there are about 400 people on the waiting list for a CCI dog, and some wait up to three years before meeting a companion.
She said there was a luncheon before graduation where she and her husband were going to get to meet Falcon’s new family.
“I hardly slept the night before,” she said. “I was so excited.”
When they met Falcon’s companion — a woman who suffered a stroke in her 30s and who has an 11-month-old son — it was incredibly emotional.
“We just immediately clicked and I know we’re going to be friends forever,” she said. “Both my husband and I just felt like we couldn’t have asked for a better match.”
Also before the ceremony, Mitsui was reunited with Falcon after six months apart.
“He knew who I was right away,” she said.
Graduation consisted of Mitsui handing Falcon over to his new companion before hundreds of ceremony attendees — a testament to the fact that it is a “big deal,” Mitsui said.
“When we take this on the ultimate goal is to have them graduate, but not all dogs make it,” she said.
Mitsui is currently raising her fourth puppy, Evie. Mitsui will raise Evie until she’s about 18 months old, at which point the pup will follow in Falcon’s footsteps to her final training.
Mitsui said if anyone is interested in more information about becoming a CCI puppy raiser, they can visit the Forrest Bird Charter Middle School’s multi-purpose room on Tuesdays from 3:30-4:30 p.m. to watch the puppy raisers work with their trainer, Lindsay Feist.
Also, if there are organizations or businesses who would like more information on CCI, Mitsui said a presentation can be made to your group. Contact her at [email protected].
You can learn more about Canine Companions for Independence at www.CCI.org.
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