Students Raise Money for Service Dog Organization

Vernon Hills High School Interact Club members held a Doggy Bake Sale to raise money for Canine Companions for Independence, or CCI.

Sharon Haines' service dog, Clover, picked up a laundry basket and set it down next to Haines' wheelchair.

Then, Clover carefully used her teeth to grab a sock out of the basket and give it to Haines. She then did the same with a pair of jeans, and with a glove Haines dropped on the floor. Haines said Clover can even open doors and turn on lights.

"She has helped me tremendously," said Haines, who has had Clover in her life for about two and a half years. "Anything I drop, she can pick up for me."

Haines, of Mundelein, expressed gratitude toward the volunteers who oversee prospective service dogs' trainings for the first year of their lives, and to the organization that continues that training for another year.

"You can't thank them enough," said Haines.

It is that organization—Canine Companions for Independence (CCI)—that students at Vernon Hills High School held a special Doggy Bake Sale for on Dec. 14. It was the school's sixth fundraiser for the nonprofit organization, which provides service dogs for people with disabilities.

Nancy Skeffington, the school psychologist, is the sponsor of the after-school Interact Club. One part of the club involves students assisting with the training and socializing of prospective service dogs. The dogs and their trainers visit VHHS regularly to interact with the students.

After a year with local volunteer trainers, the dogs are taken to CCI regional training centers for six to nine months of the advanced training. Skeffington said only half of the prospective service dogs make it through the advanced training with CCI.

Those that make it through the training—which costs about $40,000—are given to people with disabilities at no charge. Skeffington noted that there is a two-year waiting list for the dogs.

Treats for Trainees

The annual Doggy Bake Sale gives the school community a way to help cover a small portion of those training costs. Skeffington said students and staff use two recipes—cheese and peanut butter—and bake the dog treats at home. Then, students and staff gather in the school's Foods Lab to decorate the dog treats, put them in bags and label them.

The bags of dog treats are sold for just $1 apiece.

"And we haven't raised the price in six years," said Skeffington.

Since the program began, the Interact Club has raised $1,506 for CCI.

"Not bad for selling dog treats!" said Skeffington. "I wish more schools would do this."

Training a Future Service Dog

The students' efforts are definitely appreciated by Libertyville resident Jane Barber, who has served as a volunteer trainer for 17 years. Her current dog, Lyle, is her 12th.

As a volunteer trainer, Barber covers all of Lyle's costs, including food and veterinarian visits.

"All puppy raisers do the same thing," said Barber.

Nine of the 11 dogs Barber has had in her home over the years have graduated from CCI's advanced service dog training.


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