Puppies flown to Spokane will eventually help those with disabilities

SPOKANE, Wash. — Six puppies took a private flight to Spokane’s Felts Field today from California. Anxious families were waiting to take them home, but they won’t be staying permanently. They’re in training and will be given to someone with disabilities for free.

Canine Companions for Independence has been around since 1975 and has given away thousands of dogs. One family at Felts Field said this isn’t their first puppy.

“We’re here to pick up our 16th puppy that we’re raising for Canine Companions for Independence,” said Linda Hardesty, who will train the puppy with her husband, Dan. “We’ve been waiting five months since we turned our last puppy.”

They started raising puppies in 2000. The puppy they’re taking home is Maris. The dog and its five siblings got the flight to Spokane for free, thanks to a California business owner.

“It brings tears to our eyes,” said Lilly Mitsui, chapter president for Canine Companions for Independence. “It’s a beautiful thing that people really stepped up during a time like this.”

Mitsui said the puppies normally fly on a commercial plane, but haven’t been able to because of the pandemic.

“To have this happen by the kindness of the gentleman is just beyond words,” she said.

As for the volunteer puppy raisers — they do a wide variety of things with the dogs.

“We get them through potty training and puberty and we teach them about 30 commands,” Hardesty said.

The puppies will get ready to help someone with a disability.

“A lot of them work with children with disabilities, and that could be autism,” Hardesty explained. “It could be a physical disability.”

Some are trained to be hearing dogs, like Maris. These types of dogs hold a special place in Linda’s heart. She was inspired by her mother who is deaf and had a hearing dog.

“They’re trained to retrieve items — turn the lights on and off, even take clothes out of the dryer,” Mitsui said.

The dogs are going to homes in North Idaho and Eastern Washington. They will spend about 16 months with the families before heading back to California, the main headquarters for the organization. From there, they will go through more training before heading to a permanent family.

“The best part about it is you actually get to present the dog upon graduation to the new family,” Mitsui said. “In most cases we are able to stay in contact with that family and watch just what this wonderful doing is going to do to change their lives and give them independence they never had before.”

While the goodbye is hard for families like the Hardestys, it’s also rewarding.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t give up a puppy,” Linda said. “But when you see those dogs with the people that they’re raised to help, you would give them any puppy. You would give them as many puppies as you could ever raise.”

Currently, 400 people with disabilities are waiting to get a dog through the non-profit organization. If you would like to become a puppy raiser or learn more about the organization, click here.

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