Craig Barbieri with Miri II, a dog from Canine Companions that...

Craig Barbieri with Miri II, a dog from Canine Companions that he helped raise and is now being trained to help people with physical and emotional challenges. Credit: Canine Companions / Hayley Gordon

Newly retired with some time on his hands, Craig Barbieri wanted to honor his late brother, Don — a longtime New Hyde Park village trustee — in a meaningful way.

Raising an adorable, active Labrador retriever puppy to assist it on the path to becoming a trained service dog seemed like the logical choice.

Don Barbieri was known as a beloved ambassador for the village, greeting people along the streets with Hallie, the service dog from Canine Companions who helped him manage the tasks his multiple sclerosis made difficult. Barbieri died in 2018.

“That kind of bond is priceless,” said Craig Barbieri, 57, a retired New Hyde Park Memorial High School guidance counselor. “She helped him physically, mentally and emotionally.”

Canine job training

  • Craig Barbieri of New Hyde Park helped raise a service dog for over a year to honor the memory of his brother, Donald Barbieri, who died in 2018 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.
  • Donald Barbieri, a longtime village trustee, and his service dog Hallie were well-known in the community.
  • Canine Companions, which trains the dogs, said it needs more people to help raise puppies from about 8 to 10 weeks of age until they are old enough to start training at around 18 months.

Last Thursday, Barbieri, who lives in New Hyde Park, said goodbye to Mira II, the dog he and his wife, Julie, had helped raise since July 2022, as she moved into the next phase of her training at Canine Companions’s Northeast region facility in Medford.

“People think it’s too hard to do this because they don’t want to give up the dog,” said Barbieri. “But you know you are doing this for a purpose and that helps ground you in the mission.”

Canine Companions, which has several training centers throughout the nation, provides service dogs to adults, children and veterans with disabilities. Its dogs have also been trained to work in health care, criminal justice and educational facilities.

The dogs undergo rigorous training before they are matched with their human partners and then the pair train together. Only about half of the dogs make it to the end of the program and can be placed as service dogs.

“If we didn’t have people raising puppies for us, we would have no dogs to place,” said Ellen Torop, Canine Companion’s program director for the Northeast region. “Our puppy raisers spend a tremendous amount of time getting our dogs out into the world doing focused field trips where the dog is exposed to all different kinds of people and sounds and sights and noises. Our dogs have to be exposed to all of these things in a very careful, calculated way so they grow up to be confident and they can work in the world.”

Barbieri said he hadn't grown up with dogs or owned one as a pet as an adult.

“I had a steep learning curve,” he said. “This was an eye-opening experience because Mira is not a pet. You have to follow certain protocols.”

He described the pup as friendly and playful.

“She was a wonderful dog to train,” he said.

New Hyde Park Mayor Chris Devane said Barbieri’s work with Mira is a way to honor and add to Don and Hallie’s legacy, which includes a village dog park created and named in their honor.

“Donald always had a smile on his face,” said Devane, who proposed the dog park. “Bringing people together is what he was exceptional at. And the dog park has brought people together in the spirit of friendship and love of pets.”

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