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Long Islanders receive support dogs from Canine Companions

Four Long Islanders were given specially trained dogs as part of the graduation ceremony at Canine Companions for Independence, a national organization in Medford, where the dogs are trained to assist people with disabilities. Credit: Randee Daddona

Four Long Islanders were each gifted a specially-trained furry companion Friday to help them in their daily lives.

The dogs were passed from their trainers to new owners as part of the Canine Companions for Independence Winter Graduation Day.

Kristy Darling, 27, of Holtsville, Andrea Gottesman, 63, of Roslyn Heights, Luke Mantone, 10, of Wantagh, and Brigid Vogt, 49, of Seaford, were ceremoniously handed the dog and leash by the trainers, to start their new lives together.

“He’s a perfect dog. I love him so much,” Vogt said of her new dog Lennon, a Labrador retriever.

Four years ago, Vogt had a leg amputated after suffering septic shock. She may need a wheelchair for the rest of her life, she said, and Lennon will be able to assist her in her day-to-day activities.

“He retrieves items for me,” she said. She said she enjoys snuggling in bed with the black dog.

Canine Companions for Independence has several chapters around the country, including one on Long Island with a training center in Medford.

The nonprofit organization breeds Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and crosses of the two. The puppies are born in the homes of volunteer breeders, who keep them for eight weeks. Volunteer puppy raisers then take them for the next 14 to 18 months, teaching them basic obedience skills as well as providing socialization, love and attention.

After six to nine months of training, the dogs are matched up with their recipients — free of charge — and take part in a two-week team training program, in which they learn to work together. Darling, who suffers from anxiety, even taught her dog Wasabi a command to have him lay his head on her lap.

The graduation ceremony is the culmination of the training program.

Luke, who has down syndrome, is able to stay calm and improve his speech and behavior thanks to his dog Ruff, his mother said.

“I love Ruff,” Luke said.

His mother, Jane Mantone, said having Ruff could help Luke learn more responsibilities, like when to feed the dog.

“We’re excited to have Ruff as part of the family,” Jane said.

Gottesman, who received her second dog from Canine Companions on Friday, said having a service dog has been a life-altering experience.

“It’s the most exciting and moving experience of my life,” she said.

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