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No bones about it

An annual benefit gala raises money for service dogs

Aimee Williams August 7th, 2013

Canines and Cowboys Gala
6-11 p.m. Saturday
Heart of Oklahoma Expo Center
1700 W. Independence, Shawnee

In honor of International Assistance Dog Week, Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) is hosting its ninth annual gala to help further the mission of transforming puppies into superheroes.

“In a nutshell, we provide assistance dogs to people in need of extra help, completely free of charge,” said Katie Malatino, who has worked with the nonprofit for more than six years. “Our clients range from adults with mobility problems due to cerebral palsy and spinal cord injuries to children with learning disabilities.”

According to Malatino, CCI starts training assistance dogs from puppyhood to meet clients’ various needs.

“For the first eight weeks, the puppies live with their breeders, and then they move in with their volunteer trainers, who we call puppy raisers,” she said. “Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or a walk down the street, we have to make sure the dogs are fully prepared in all situations in order for them to be of service.”

The special guest speaker at Saturday’s gala is former FBI agent Sue Thomas, whose real-life story inspired the TV series Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye.

“For 30 years, I have relied on service dogs to break barriers that I face on a daily basis,” Thomas said. “As a profoundly deaf woman, I rely on the ears of my dog to alert me to all the sounds that most hearing people take for granted such as a doorbell or a smoke detector. As a person living with multiple sclerosis, my dog breaks the physical barriers that I face when in a wheelchair or scooter.”

In light of her conditions, Thomas said she needed a CCI dog that could fulfill multiple roles. Her current canine is Rodney, a 3-year-old yellow English Lab.

“He is a unique, well-rounded dog.

He handles the duties of a hearing dog as well as the slow motion for special skills,” she said. “Very few dogs can handle the responsibilities of working two different jobs.”

As someone who knows service dogs, Thomas said she fully supports what CCI has done since its inception in 1975.

“These dedicated dogs were born to serve, and they love doing their work,” she said. “CCI has raised the bar of excellence when it comes to dedicated canines breaking extraordinary barriers.”

The Canines and Cowboys gala features wine and dinner, live entertainment, a silent auction and presentations from the local police dogs and assistance dogs.

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