The hardest part about raising a puppy for Canine Companions for Independence is not all the training you have to do. It's the day you let the dog go, says Monica Di Nocco, 17, a senior at Oak Ridge High School. She knows she'll be able say goodbye to her first puppy-in-training, 10-month-old, Halo, because she sees the good a companion dog does for her mother, Peggy, who has multiple sclerosis. Before her mom's dog, Felice, came into their life, Monica's spent her teen years helping her mother and worrying about leaving her alone. Felice performs simple yet crucial tasks such as picking things up for Peggy, helping her out of bed or fetching her cell phone. Felice gives Monica freedom and peace of mind.
So she's giving back. "You're raising a miracle for somebody else," she said. "She's kind of like a part of me. I have to put (everything) into her."
While the other kids in advanced a cappella choir class are chatting with each other and reluctantly settling down to get to work Monica is working with Halo.
"Halo sit. Halo down," she says in a calm but firm voice, watching her closely until she obeys. Halo comes to school with Monica almost every day. Choir is the most challenging class for the dog because of all the activity around her. She gets restless and is distracted by the energetic singing and the eager hands of other students petting her during class. Monica expertly juggles her classroom and puppy-raising responsibilities and once the dog is behaving, she reverts to normal teenage antics, by whispering with other students when the teacher asks for quiet.
It's no small task to bring a dog to High School with you. Everyone wants to pet Halo and give her commands. There are lots of questions. "If you go to the hospital will Halo go with you?" asked a classmate in between classes.
Despite the challenges Monica keeps the big picture in mind - that she's raising a dog that will eventually go on to be a companion animal. As she decides which colleges she will apply to she is trying to figure out which schools will allow her to continue to raise puppies. She wants to eventually work in special education, and bring dogs into her future classrooms to help her students.
"She's a giver. She loves to give," said her mother, Peggy. "Not a lot of teenagers could do this."
To find out more about Canine Companions for Independence and how you can volunteer visit www.cci.org.
Do you know someone who should be profiled in the I Care column? Please email Autumn Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org.