DogFest raises money for service dogs | VailDaily.com

DogFest raises money for service dogs

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

EDWARDS — Nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) invites all Vail Valley dog lovers to walk their pup this Saturday — with about a hundred or more other furry, four-footed friends.

DogFest Walk 'n Roll is a fundraiser walk and festival that benefits CCI, a nationwide organization that raises and trains service dogs and matches them up with people in need, all free of charge. The Vail Valley has always had an active chapter, both of people who fundraise and of puppy raisers who help raise the highly skilled dogs. However, this is the first time the Vail Valley has held a DogFest, and it's already projected to be the highest grossing DogFest this year out of 30 nationwide.

Here's how it works: Beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, participants and their dogs (must be on leashes) will meet at Freedom Park in Edwards for a one-mile walk around the park. Afterward, attendees can enjoy a festival atmosphere that includes service dog demonstrations, EMTs who will show how to do emergency first aid on animals, face painting, prize opportunities and food and games for both humans and canines.

A community effort

Some of the Colorado service dogs and their humans will be on hand as well. The event is free, although fundraising is encouraged. CCI Vail Valley has set a lofty goal of $150,000 for the event, and with the help various community efforts and teams of fundraisers, the current count is about at $125,000.

There is a matching $25,000 donation thanks to a dog named Jake, and on Thursday, CCI auctioned off a number of prizes and designer dog beds donated by designers around town.

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Ultimately, the goal of DogFest is the get the word out about CCI in the Vail Valley, said organizer Anne Roberts.

"I'd like to see CCI on the map in the Vail Valley," she said. "We're raising awareness of what we do and that our dogs are full service dogs who service any disability except for blindness. This is to raise awareness and find puppy raisers and find folks who need the dogs."

A growing program

CCI dogs, usually a golden retriever/Labrador mix, are trained in about 50 commands. They're raised by volunteers until the age of 14 months, and then spend time with a professional trainer. Currently, the Vail Valley chapter says one of its greatest needs is finding more puppyWhen they're ready, they're matched with people who need them, and together the dog and person go through another period of training. CCI Dogs go to people who range from kids with autism to veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome to people in wheelchairs.

"They will help you get undressed, help you with your laundry, go to the grocery store, pay the money, and they will retrieve things (which is very useful for people who are paralyzed or in wheelchairs)," said Roberts. "They'll get fax papers, answer your phone and open doors."

For one service dog recipient, Denver resident Stacy Hendricks, her dog Cavalier has given her newfound freedoms. Hendricks has osteogenesis imperfect, known as brittle bone disease, which makes some everyday tasks a challenge. With Cavalier, whom she received in May, she's been able to enjoy more of her favorite activities, such as meeting new people and traveling.

""Having Cavalier has made huge improvements in my life already," said Hendricks. "I feel more comfortable and confident as a person and more excited about my future. I can do so many more things independently with my new best friend."

The organization is finding that the service dogs can offer more than physical help. Many dogs are paired with autistic children, for example.

"We see 6 or 7 year olds who are nonverbal or have never slept through the night," said Roberts. "Once they get the dog, they start to talk to the dog or suddenly sleep through the night with the dog at their side. We also have court dogs for children who have been abused and are going through the court system."

Beyond joining in DogFest, there are a number of ways to get involved with CCI. They're looking for fundraisers, puppy raisers, recipients in need of a dog and there's even a CCI Junior Chapter. Kids ages 13 to 16 are represented from each Eagle Valley school, and they commit to holding a fundraiser at their school and helping run DogFest.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

If you go…

What: DogFest Walk ‘n Roll festival for Canine Companions

Where: Freedom Park, Edwards

When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday

How much: Free to attend, fundraising is encouraged

More info: http://www.cci.org/dogfestvail