Canine Companions’ Puttin’ on the Ritz gala at the Ritz-Carlton | VailDaily.com

Canine Companions’ Puttin’ on the Ritz gala at the Ritz-Carlton

Lindsay Bribiescas
lindsay@vaildaily.com

Thanks to a wonderful dog named Jake, donations to Canine Companions for Independence's annual Puttin' on the Ritz fundraising gala on Saturday, Aug. 26, will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $25,000.

The gala features cocktails, dinner, music, a live auction and assistance dogs will give demonstrations. This year, there is dancing — and in true Canine Companions for Independence fashion, there will be dogs on the dance floor.

PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ

Canine Companions for Independence is a nonprofit organization providing specially-trained assistance dogs, free of charge, to adults, children and veterans with disabilities. Since 1975, the organization has provided more than 5,000 assistance dogs.

Anne Roberts, president of the Vail Valley chapter of Canine Companions for Independence, is hopeful this year's gala will be even more successful than last year's event, which raised more than $220,000. With each dog costing about $50,000, the funds from last year are enough to support four assistance dog teams.

The gala features an auction to help raise money, and this year, items include trips to Africa, Spain, Ireland and Italy; a wine barrel full of wines; a professional photography session and framed portrait; and a stay at the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch.

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Another way the gala raises money is through sponsorships, which are met by Jake, the dog, and his family. The German shepherd holds an enigmatic supporting role to Canine Companions for Independence, matching donations to the gala up to $25,000.

Aside from raising money to help train the dogs, Roberts hopes the gala will make people realize how many people can benefit from their assistance dogs.

"Every year my wish is the same — that somewhere in that crowd, there's someone that has a lightbulb goes off and they say, 'Yeah, I know someone who could use one of these dogs.' And they call me, and the process begins," Roberts said. "That's actually not just during the gala, that's my wish 24/7."

KEYNOTE SPEAKER

The keynote speaker of the gala is Michelle Kephart, who will be attending with her assistance dog, Rumba.

"Before I had her, I would just get myself into a lot of trouble. I'm a little bit stubborn, and I've always insisted on doing things on my own," Kephart said. "Sometimes I'd drive down the street if there's no sidewalk, and I won't do that if I have Rumba because I care more about her safety than mine, I guess. So she helps me make better decisions."

Kephart, who is confined to a wheelchair, was partnered with Rumba four years ago. Although Rumba works as Kephart's assistance dog, she is also part of Kephart's family.

"She's goofy. She's got a great work ethic, so when it's work time, she's in it, she's serious. She's ready to go," Kephart said. "But when it's playtime, it's 100-percent playtime, and she's just a silly dog. I love her."

Roberts said the pair was selected to be the keynote speakers for their exemplary qualities as a team, and for Kephart's ability to tell the Canine Companions for Independence story. To help tell the story, Kephart even made a video illustrating their teamwork, and how her life has changed since she started working with Rumba.

"I find that our graduates have this spirit that they might not have even been able to tap into until they have one of our dogs," Roberts said. "It's a can-do, don't feel sorry for me, I have a great life attitude. And our dogs really, really bring that out in people of all ages."

MORE ON CCI

Canine Companions for Independence spreads across the country, with six training centers and numerous chapters, including two in Colorado. There are programs serving not only disabled adults, but also children and veterans with disabilities. CCI trains four kinds of assistance dogs that assist with different disabilities: service dogs, hearing dogs, facility dogs and skilled companions.

For those looking to receive an assistance dog, visit cci.org for more information. Everyone is eligible, as CCI dogs meet a wide variety of needs. Dogs are provided to partners free of charge, although maintenance and upkeep falls onto the partner.

IF YOU GO …

What: Puttin’ on the Ritz, a fundraising gala for Canine Companions for Independence.

When: Saturday, Aug. 26, 6 p.m.

Where: The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek.

Cost: $175, with sponsorship opportunities at different levels.

More information: Visit http://www.cci.org/vailgala.