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  • Writer's pictureJulia Fieldhammer

September is National Service Dog Month

This month I started my program, City Connections online. The program goes by Pittsburgh public’s school schedule, so when they decided they would do online classes, my program got moved to online as well. This also meant that when Pittsburgh public schools had to push back their starting day because they didn’t have enough computers for everybody, my program got pushed back as well. Every morning I get up at 8 to get ready for class that starts at 9. I used to wake up at 6:45, so at least now that my program is online I get to sleep in a bit since my commute is just to the dining room. Usually when everything’s normal in the world my class is always out in the community, whether it’s at a job of some sort or going out and doing something fun with the rest of the class. Starting online school this week has been okay so far. We have been reading a lot of news articles together, and after we read them we talk about our thoughts on the articles. My class also has done some math, which is not my favorite subject so I am always happy when we move on from it. It makes me sad that I can’t go out into the community with my program for part of my last year in it, but it is what it is.

Since this month is National Service Dog Month, I wanted to share a little about my journey with my service dog, Hartmann. I got Hartmann in 2012, in the summer after my 6th grade. Hartmann is a service dog from the organization Canine Companions for Independence, or CCI. The way CCI works is you have to fill out an application to get on their waiting list to get a dog. Before you’re officially on the waiting list, CCI interviews you and your family so they can get an idea of your situation and what dog would be a good match for you. Once you’re officially on the list it’s normally a 2 year wait, at least for your first dog. When CCI thinks they may have a dog in training that you would match well with you’ll get what I like to call, “The Call.” I remember when I got “The Call.” It was one day after school in 6th grade and my mom and I were about to go out for a walk. She had gone into another room to get something when our home phone started ringing. I didn’t know who was calling until the call went to voicemail and I heard, “Hello, this is CCI…” I was so excited that I couldn’t even talk and when my mom came back into the room, she thought I was choking.

Three months later my mom, my sister and I headed off to Columbus, OH. That was where the training was because thats where our closest regional headquarters is located. We were in Columbus for two weeks learning all about service dogs and how to work with them. The first two days we worked with a lot of different dogs to see which one we clicked with. Some of the dogs didn’t work well with us and they didn’t listen to my mom and me. The third day into the two weeks was match day. This meant everyone would get matched with their forever dog. I still remember the moment I found out that Hartmann was mine. The instructor said “Hartmann wants to go home with Julia.” I was so excited! I couldn’t stop petting Hartmann, so glad that he would be ours. That night we got to take Hartmann back to our hotel with us. I could tell my mom was nervous; she hadn’t had a dog since her childhood. I felt really excited to have Hartmann there with me. He was officially mine! The rest of the week we worked on different commands that we would use. We also bonded as a team; Hartmann got to know me and I got to know him!!

That weekend I was sad because we had to leave Hartmann at CCI headquarters to go move my oldest sister into college. I was thinking how sad Hartmann must have been, to be given a forever family and then have them go away. “Don’t worry buddy,” I thought as we left Columbus to drive to Kentucky. “We’re coming back.” 

When we first got the call my dad was unsure if we should say yes since we knew my sister’s move in day for her freshman year in college would be right in the middle of training. My mom had to convince him that her, my older sister, and I could do the training and still meet him and my oldest sister down in Kentucky for the move in. It was a lot of work, but we managed it, even though we had some bumps along the way. Like my dad hurting his back and my sister having to wheel him to his car in my wheelchair. Yes, that happened!

Thankfully we made it back to training by Monday morning. The second week of training was going to start! We continued to work on commands and learned some more complicated things such as “light” which tells the dog to turn the lights on and off. We also went on outings to practice handling the dogs out in public. Our group went to the mall and the zoo. Funny story, Hartmann pooped in the middle of the entrance to the zoo because my mom told us to hurry up. Hurry is the command for the dog to go to the bathroom. Whoops!! We know better now!!

At the end of the two weeks the was a graduation for the class. I got to meet Hartmann’s puppy raisers. Normally a puppy only has one puppy raiser, but for some reason Hartmann had two. The puppy raisers gave me a book with Hartmann’s baby pictures in it. After we talked for a little, the puppy raisers got to spend time with Hartmann to say goodbye to him. After a hour or so it was time for the graduation ceremony. The way it worked was the puppy raisers walked their dogs onto the stage to hand the leash to the recipient of the dogs. When Hartmann saw me he was so excited that he did what we call “lap.” Lap is a command for the dogs to jump up so their upper body is on your lap, and their head is right in front of yours. It’s mainly used for when I’m in my wheelchair or another chair and I want to pet and hug him. After the ceremony everyone celebrated the graduates who just graduated with their new pup. Finally it was time to bring my boy Hartmann home!

Since that day Hartmann and I have had many adventures. We love to take walks together whether it’s with my family or just us two! We have lots of walking trails around my house which is nice and my mom lets me take Hartmann for walks by myself as long I stay in my immediate neighborhood. 

Another fun thing Hartmann and I did together was having a photoshoot. The photoshoot was technically for my senior pictures, but we wanted Hartmann in some of the pictures too. We went to Hartwood Acres, which is a really nice park pretty close to my house. I got to dress up in some really cute outfits and the photographer took some really cute pictures of me and Hartmann! 

When I’m sad Hartmann always cheers me up! I know I can always count on him to be there for me. He has definitely made my life better in so many ways! Hartmann is the best doggie ever!! If you have a disability and you want a dog, I highly recommend applying to CCI. I promise you you’ll won’t be disappointed! 

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