The Luisi family of West Islip was looking for a gentle dog to draw 16-year-old Ava out her shell and to be a steady presence by her side.
After hearing about Canine Companions from one of Ava’s babysitters, the Luisis began the application process and nearly two years later have been matched with Ogden V, who along with five other dogs graduated from Canine Companions and can begin their time as service dogs.
Before graduation on Oct. 21, the Luisis were required to attend a 10-day training period so that they could be matched with their dog and learn the proper commands that Ogden responds to.
John Luisi said a typical day consisted of lectures for an hour, training for an hour and a half, and then field trips to public places such as Target and Lowe’s to practice commands with the dog.
Canine Companions prides themselves on their matching together of individual and dog to form the perfect team.
“I think that is part of the magic of this entire process,” said Debra Dougherty, executive director of Canine Companions’ Northeast region. “It’s a little more than a two-year process, so we get to know the people very well, and we know the dogs because we breed them through our breeding program and we follow along with them.”
Jenn Luisi was amazed at how well Ogden and daughter Ava meshed. Ava, who has cerebral palsy, needed a more relaxed and affectionate pup, and Ogden fits the bill perfectly.
“There is nobody that would not like this dog,” Jenn Luisi said of Ogden. “He is just a snuggler. We got to take him home the third or fourth day here, and immediately in the backseat his head was on her lap. The connection is just so cute.”
All the dogs that are trained for Canine Companions come from a selective breeding program and are crosses of Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers. Ogden will help Ava with physical tasks, social situations and just being a forever friend. Parents John and Jenn are Ogden’s facilitators, who went through the training along with Ava and know all of Ogden’s commands.
Before Ogden was matched with the Luisi family, he was raised for a year and a half by Sherie and Lars Koefoed of Maidens, Va. Ogden was the second dog they have raised for Canine Companions and they currently have 10-week-old Spector II, who they are also training for the organization.
The Koefoeds traveled all the way from Virginia to be at Ogden’s graduation in Medford and see him again. Despite it being difficult to say goodbye to a dog raised from a puppy, Sherie Koefoed said the experience is worth it, just being able to know you helped somebody.
“That felt like the fruition of so much effort to see that I pour my heart into it and I get to change one little sphere of the world at a time with what that dog can do,” Sherie said.
Before the graduation, the Koefoeds and Luisis were able to meet and promised that they will stay in touch with each other.
“I think today went exceptionally well,” Dougherty said of the graduation. “It’s been very challenging with the pandemic to do this safely, effectively, and make it as effective as it is under normal circumstances. I think all of the teams, they’ll all do very well as they go out into the world.”
To learn more information about Canine Companions, visit https://canine.org
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