Service dogs for military veterans graduate from school

OCEANSIDE, Calif. - Friday was graduation day in Oceanside for a class of dogs who will be paired with people with disabilities and military veterans.

Calvin Smith got his black Labrador named Chesney from Canine Companions in 2009. He told 10News he was wounded in Iraq in 2003, but that injury wasn't enough to stop him from returning to combat in 2006.

Smith re-injured his back and suffered a couple of concussions from IEDs, but his most debilitating injury would happen stateside when he was involved in a motorcycle crash and lost his left leg.

"A guy was texting on his cellphone and didn't see me," said Smith.

Life, simple things, weren't so simple anymore. After much resisting, Smith agreed to get a service dog, and chesney would change his life again.

He said, "Toward the end of the day when my legs are starting to tire, he's there to help pull me up the stairs or help me not go down the stairs at full force."

Lisa Lowe is one of the hundreds of Canine Companion trainers around the country. On Friday, she said goodbye to Gambler and watched him walk into the life of someone who needs him physically and emotionally. She described it as gut wrenching.

"It's really hard, but we're so proud of him," said Lowe.

The puppy trainers work hand-in-paw for 18 months until the dogs are ready to graduate, and then they hand the leash over to people with disabilities and military veterans like Smith.

Lowe said, "It's amazing when we see the graduates up there and see how the dogs are changing their lives. It's an incredible feeling so it will make it all worth it."

Now, Chesney helps Smith with the simple things like picking up his cane or his cellphone from the ground. What can't be seen is what Chesney does for Smith's heart and soul.

It cost $50,000 to breed, train and place every one of those service dogs, and Canine Companions doesn't get any government funding.

For more information, visit http://www.cci.org

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