Pickerington High School Central junior Alex Woodall gets help picking up his keys from recent Canine Companion for Independence graduate Carlos.
Pickerington High School Central junior Alex Woodall is an intelligent, lively student who spends his days in a motorized wheelchair with a hand control.
Due to Cerebral Palsy, he cannot stand up or bend over on his own. Until recently, anytime he dropped a pen or his keys, they stayed on the floor until his classroom assistant or someone else picked them up for him.
Now, he has received a gift that will allow him to live the dream of going to college and have an independent life beyond.
Carlos, a Canine Companion for Independence (CCI) trained dog, has come to life with Alex and transformed his life.
Carlos graduated from CCI training in November and was matched with Woodall after an exhaustive eight-step process that lasted over a year and culminated in an intense two-week combined human and canine training session at the North Central Region regional center located in Delaware.
Woodall and Carlos currently have a combination of 42 commands to work with and the ability to develop more as needed.
Carlos not only picks up Woodall's dropped pens or turn the lights on or off, he has brought real independence to Woodall's life and has provided a path for him to pursue the same dreams his classmates often take for granted.
Sheila Woodall, his mother, choked up when she said, "We knew he (Carlos) would help Alex be more independent. We knew he'd be fabulous. We didn't realize just how special he would be.
"To know that college will be possible and that Alex can be independent, it's amazing," she said.
Before a person can be matched with a dog, he or she goes through a number of interviews that are intended to match human and dog personalities for the best team combination that can be achieved, said Laurel Marks, director of CCI.
Then, while the dogs continue training at their regional training center, the humans start their own training program where participants are reminded it is the humans that are being trained, Marks said. The dogs will already know what they are doing.
In addition to the original 25 commands that the dogs learn in early life, advanced training involves learning additional commands and teaches the human how to combine commands for specific tasks, Marks said.
Canine companions are selected from the national breeding program based in Santa Rosa, Calif., as eight-week-old puppies and placed with volunteer puppy raisers around the country who will keep the dogs until they are around 14 months old, Marks said. The volunteers will teach them their original 25 commands as well as house manners and appropriate public behavior, according to CCI.
Next, the dogs are returned to one of five regional centers for additional training and assessment, she said. It is possible for a dog to fail out of the program at any step for any number of reasons, including personality flaws as well as medical issues.
Even after training and placement, a canine companion and human companion team continue their training, Marks said. Carlos does not go to school with Alex because the team needed to pass additional training and testing.
The school environment is one of the most challenging for a canine companion. Alex, however, at 17, has now passed the test, something that is not usually accomplished until someone is 18, Marks said. Carlos may not go to high school, but he is ready for college.
To help raise funds for CCI, during the holidays, Woodall and his mom wrapped gifts for donations, with Carlos at his post next to Alex's wheel. While there, they had an opportunity to share their story with a young, hearing impaired man and his mother, who were excited to learn of the program and the possibility of greater independence, Sheila Woodall said.
During the past five years, students of Fairfield Elementary have raised money for the CCI program to support the general operations of the organization. Other CCI dogs have visited the school before, and Woodall says he is hoping to make an appearance with Carlos as well.
Additional information about Canine Companions for Independence is available at www.cci.org. The North Central Regional office is available at (740) 548-4447.