Imagine not being able to reach a light switch, pick up your keys when you drop them, or open a cabinet door. Then imagine having a dog that could do all of that for you, and more…
(Canine Companions for Independence Website, 2008)
Lucky is a five-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever bred, raised and trained by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a national nonprofit organization that provides assistance dogs to people with disabilities who can demonstrate that an assistance dog will enhance their independence or quality of life. CCI dogs are provided at no cost to the graduates—all the expenses of breeding, raising, and training a Canine Companion are funded through private donations.
CCI dogs begin their journey when they are whelped in the homes of volunteer breeder caretakers. When the puppies are two months old, they are brought to the Santa Rosa, California, Schulz campus that houses full-time veterinary and kennel care staff. Following examination and vaccination, pups are placed in the homes of volunteer puppy raisers throughout the U.S. through one of CCI's five regional centers. The dogs are returned to their regional centers at approximately 18 months old and begin a six- to nine-month program of professional training.
The next step is Team Training where CCI dogs are introduced to the people who may become their partners. Team training lasts two very intense weeks. At the end of the training, a public graduation ceremony takes place marking the beginning of a long-term relationship between partner and dog and between the team and CCI. Graduates remain in touch with CCI through regular follow-up programs, workshops and reunions.
Lucky was born to Dad, Baumann, and Mom, Zenda – both black Labradors – in a litter of eight puppies on October 12, 2003, at the home of Zenda’s caretakers, David and Debbie Marshall of Paradise, CA. (Zenda is now retired from breeding and Baumann is cared for by CCI’s National Breeding and Puppy Program Manager, Esther Molina, and her husband, Milo, in Santa Rosa.)
Lucky was raised by Adrienne & Beau Beamesderfer of Colorado Springs, Colorado. At 17-months old, Lucky went to the training center in Oceanside, CA, outside of San Diego, where he was trained by professional instructor, Simi Balter. Lucky graduated November 12, 2005 with partner, Randi Price, a nurse practitioner at the Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado.
“I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy when I was 29. I was doing triathlons and climbing mountains at the time. But, when I got the news, I promised myself I would never let this disease take away my joy in life, and that I would do whatever I needed to adapt well and happily.
That’s where Lucky comes in.
Lucky has enhanced my life and made it much richer in ways I didn’t even know were possible. He is my bridge to a world I saw slowly slipping away from me. When you navigate through the world sitting down, it’s easy to be overlooked; people don’t always notice someone in a chair, or they’re hesitant or don’t know just how to interact. Lucky bridges that gap. People notice him. They smile. They ask me about him or compliment me about how handsome and well behaved he is. Maybe I’m partial, but to me there is nothing more irresistible on this earth than a yellow Labrador!
Lucky gives people permission to be more open than they normally would to a stranger on the street. It’s amazing how a wagging tail and button nose can be an invitation to friendship. Lucky knows no strangers. Only friends. And together we have many.
I work at the Children’s Hospital in Denver as a nurse practitioner for the Surgery Department. Lucky and I travel throughout the hospital and see hundreds of children in our clinics each year: many with grave illnesses. Once again, Lucky is a bridge. He has his own fan club and kids who come in for their appointments always ask for Lucky. They talk to us about how they feel, what they’re afraid of, or how they think it’s ‘really cool’ seeing us scooting around, and how they want a dog just like Lucky. What an amazing gift that is to me, knowing that this yellow friend of mine is bringing tons of joy, not only to me but to these ailing kids as well!
There are several members of our staff who may not know me but they sure know Lucky by name. They tell him ‘hello’ and to ‘have a nice weekend’. And if they don’t see him with me, their first question always is, ‘Where’s Lucky?’ He has become our unofficial mascot. Little did I know that my service dog would be of service to so many!
Lucky is the first one I see when I wake up and the last one I say goodnight to. If I wake in the night, he is there next to me, often with his head on the pillow. He goes to the barn with me and helps me with my horse. He’s there at work, at the movies, with friends, on the airplane, and in the mountains pulling the wheelchair on a hiking trail.
Lucky is my hero because he is my steadfast, stalwart and constant companion; together we navigate unknown waters. He is by my side, ever present, ever faithful and always giving me strength and joy. He is my fellow traveler down this road of Muscular Dystrophy and as long as he is with me, I know we can meet any challenge that lies ahead.
Lucky is my hero because he does his job; he does what he was born to do. And he does it with such heart and unconditional love! If I can live as exuberantly and love as boundlessly as Lucky does, I will have led a successful life. Lucky me!”