Emotional ceremony held for unique graduates

Posted at 5:45 PM, May 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-14 01:16:54-04

OCEANSIDE, Calif. - An emotional ceremony Friday afternoon in Oceanside had some very unique graduates walking across the stage.

Canine Companions for Independence graduated seven new assistance dog teams, helping the national organization pass 5,000 teams since it started training service dogs in 1975.

"It really is boot camp," said trainer Becky Miller of the human/dog teams. "We expect a lot out of them."

Among the graduates were 7-year-old Connor Vaughn, who faces muscular dystrophy, and Los Angeles-area teacher Lisa Barlow.

"I have something called transverse myelitis," said Barlow, while holding onto her dog Guess. "I'm hoping to get a little more independent with her."

All the graduates finished a two-week training period with their dogs. However, the dogs themselves have endured two years of training since they were born.

"Opening and closing doors, turning on and off light switches, retrieving items off the floor," said Miller.

Less than 40 percent of the dogs-in-training become service dogs. Miller said they only pair the best of the best.

"It's been a really intense two weeks, but the instructors have been really fabulous," said Barlow.

Connor trained with Jinxy, and he said of her: "She snuggles with me a lot and I love her."

All the dogs are free, but applicants may wait years before they finally get a fully trained dog from the nonprofit organization.