By Matt Trott, USFWS
At the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we talk a lot about partners and the need to work with diverse groups to carry out our goal of conserving the nature of America.
I was lucky enough Monday to take part in the Inaugural Parade, and without my own diverse group of partners, I would not have made it very far.
Claren and Matt braved the cold to be a part of the parade. (Photo: Steve Ferrar/CCI)
My key partner is Claren, an 11-year-old service dog. She is responsible for so much improvement in my life. I can't imagine life without Claren and her willingness to pick up anything I drop and more. At work she carries my lunch. When I lived alone, she would bring me water bottles from the fridge. She grabs my shoes for me most mornings. And she is a near-constant companion.
But there were so many other partners who helped me.
I was the only person I saw in the Canine Companions for Independence contingent who was alone. I had signed up last minute so did not have a chance to ask for family or friends to join me. All this meant, though, is that instead of having a single partner to help, I had the entire CCI group -- all 135.
Most of the 135 were volunteer puppy raisers, some of the most generous people I know. They raise and train these wonderful dogs until the dogs are 18 months old. Then they turn them in to CCI for extra training until the dogs are ready to go to someone like me.
I got to know about CCI through Service employees actually. Several puppy raisers here answered questions I had about service dogs, and I am lucky enough to see puppies in the halls here sometimes being raised for CCI and other volunteer groups..
I was talking to the puppy-raiser family next to me in line and the daughter, a teenager, is raising the puppy. The mom said the No. 1 question her daughter gets is "How do you give the dog up?" And the daughter said she has seen the difference these dogs make in people's lives and answers: "How could I not?"
The kindness of the puppy raisers Monday included taking my dog to the bathroom, repeating rules I didn't hear, taking pictures for me, sharing treats and more.
But it wasn't just puppy raisers.
My wheelchair stopped working and a father of one of the other graduates fiddled with it and got it running again. The mother of another graduate kept checking on me. A trainer was always nearby.
And then, there was the president waving to us!
How cool. I have my partners to thank.
Matt Trott, a public affairs specialist at the Service's Headquarters, marched in Monday's Inaugural Parade. Matt uses a wheelchair, and nine years ago was partnered with Service Dog Claren from Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a nationwide group that provides elite service dogs to people with disabilities for free. CCI was invited to participate in the parade, and Matt shared this account: