"West Texas A&M University senior Sara Friedmann is the first volunteer “puppy raiser” on a college campus in Texas to raise for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI).
Founded in 1975, the non-profit organization was created to enhance the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs free of charge. Not only do these canine companions serve as the ears, hands and legs of their human partners, they also love them unconditionally.
Friedmann, an agriculture science major, became a devoted volunteer in her hometown of Folsom, Calif., when she chose to raise a puppy instead of raising market livestock for the National Future Farmers of America Organization. Her family became involved, and they were deeply impacted by the hands-on experience. This year, Friedmann will raise her sixth puppy from the organization.
“We’re trying to grow the organization in the Texas region,” Friedmann said. “As a volunteer, I care for the dog from eight weeks to 18 months teaching it more than 40 commands. I generate monthly reports of everything about the puppy including the places they’ve visiting, the experiences they’ve had and the things they enjoy and don’t. In advanced training, they build on the knowledge we, as puppy raisers, provide them. It eventually helps in matching the dogs to their graduate person.”
After the puppy-raising stage, volunteers take the dog back to one of the six CCI campuses nationwide for advanced training for six months. Certified trainers work with each dog learning their personalities to determine which type of service the canine could best provide. These assistance specialties include physical impairments, hearing difficulties, developmental disabilities and therapeutic services in facilities.
As the CCI pioneer in the South-Central region, Friedmann has been an advocate for the organization and its cause since she stepped foot on WTAMU’s campus in 2015. She introduced her pup to anyone asking to pet him, passed out informative handouts about the CCI group and began learning campus policies regarding service dogs and service dogs in training in the residence halls and classrooms.
“I went to disability services to learn about the policies as a freshman, and the idea of a working service dog that wasn’t a cattle dog was a foreign idea to this region. That’s when I began asking for permission to have a dog in training with me on WT’s campus,” Friedmann said. “I shared CCI’s mission for positively changing lives by giving someone their independence back and brought light to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) laws regarding pups in training. I gained support and began raising a male lab/golden cross named Powers. I make so many new friends with a dog.”
CCI breeds Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and a cross of the two. In addition to full-time staff, the organization relies on four types of volunteers—local volunteers, service club members, breeder caretakers and puppy raisers like Friedmann.
“It takes a level of maturity and responsibility to raise a puppy that will become a service dog. You have to consider your plans for the next year and your family’s involvement. You also absorb the full cost of puppy care before giving it back to the organization. But, it’s an opportunity to give someone back their independence, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop,” Friedmann said.
Upon graduation from WT, Friedmann will pursue a master’s degree and become a high school agriculture teacher, all while sharing her dog-in-training with the classroom.
“This kind of volunteering means the world to me. I get to help people, who are often times looked over because of their disability or they lack the means and endurance to complete daily tasks. These dogs are a companion that loves them unconditionally and also aids as a social bridge for many. I came to the organization for the puppies, but I stay for the people and mission,” Friedmann said."
-West Texas A&M University