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Special Needs

Marty van Duyne


After attending classes for more than a year at Margaret Brent Elementary School hardly anyone even gives Cal a second glance. And that's just fine with his teachers and school administrators.

But it is also exactly what is expected of a Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) trained dog. As part of the mixed golden retriever/Labrador retriever's training as an assistance animal, the dog learned to be seen and not heard.


A Three-unit Team

In November 2006 Cal, or Calder, was partnered with Matt Hoioos who was born with x-linked Hydrocephalus. The dog along with Matt and either his mom, Sharon or dad, Tom comprises a three-unit team. The dog has been trained to do physical tasks that Matt cannot accomplish on his own. Cal can open doors for the boy and pick up items he drops.

When Sharon and the dog are in the classroom, it is a common sight to find Cal even helping the boy with his mobility program.However, the dog's biggest accomplishment has been a result of his skill as a structural engineer. Ever vigilant by Matt's side, Cal has used his four paws to build a bridge for his partner.


Just Another Kid Now

Cal's presence has spanned the social chasm that divides many people with disabilities from their peers. Instead of just being the boy in the wheelchair, Matt is now the boy with the dog. According to Sharon, until Cal began to attend school, Matt was nearly invisible to his classmates.

"Now when we are out at the mall or other places around the area, his classmates will come up and greet him and Cal," she said. "They see Matt as just another kid like them."

Cal started school in July 2008 and when the regular school year began that September, the team arranged sessions with students at the school to teach them about assistance dogs.

"The kids know that Cal is working and they cannot pet him while he is doing his job," said Sharon.

She indicated that many kids found it easier to relate to Matt when they realized he had to make sure Cal was fed and walked just like anyone else would have to do with their own dog.Though his older siblings, Kate, Jake, and Meg adore Matt he never had school pals like his brother and sisters.


dog2A Bridge to a Friend

But in the past year Cal has helped Matt build a friendship with Justine Meyer. Although Matt attends special classes, he is also integrated into the regular curriculum. Last year he and Justine were in the same 2nd grade class. The now 9 year old became a fast friend of Matt's who will turn 12 on Jan. 11. Though she lives further south in Stafford, she has been able to ride the bus home with Matt and visit at his home after school. The two also got together over the summer. Sharon said, "Justine went to Drool in the Pool with our family at Curtis Park and she and Matt both got to swim with Cal."


A Harry Halloween

And Justine also joined the team to help Matt and Cal portray characters from the Harry Potter stories for Halloween.

"Matt was dressed as Harry Potter and Justine was dressed as Hermione Jean Granger," said Sharon. "Cal was Ron Weasley."

Given that the Ronald Bilius "Ron" Weasley fictional character is known to always be there when Harry Potter needs him, it was a fitting type cast for Cal who never leaves Matt's side. As the three fictional characters went door to door to trick or treat, Sharon's heart swelled with joy as Matt's eyes lit up and a smile crossed his face as the kids in the neighborhood greeted him by name.

One December afternoon the two friends were busy making Christmas tree wall hangings at the Hoioos' home.

Though they are in different 3rd grade classes this year, Sharon said the school had arranged for both classes to be on the same bus for a field trip to Washington D.C. so the two friends can travel together.

Justine said, "We like to play with his board games when I come to visit."

The Hoioos' have rigged up some traditional board games so Matt, who has severely limited verbal ability, can use one of his speech devices to activate buttons on games such as Life Twist and Turn.

"It enables him to independently participate in the game, said Sharon.dog3


Doing Things a Different Way

She feels his development has greatly increased since Cal has been accompanying him to school. "He makes much better eye contact than in the past and he has become much more social," said Sharon.

And just as he may use different methods to play a game, thanks to Cal, his classmates have accepted Matt as being just like them. He just does things in a different way.


Marty van Duyne is a member of the Dog Writers Association of America.



Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) is the oldest Service Dog organization in the United States. It provides Assistance Dogs free of charge to individuals with disabilities including disabled veterans. The organization provides four types of assistance dogs.

Service Dogs assist with physical tasks for a person with disabilities.

Hearing Dogs alert partners to key sounds by making physical contact such as nudging the leg or arm.

Facility Dogs are trained to partner with a facilitator working in a health care, visitation, or education setting.

Skilled Companion Dogs are trained to work with an adult or child with a disability under the guidance of a facilitator. The partner, the facilitator and the dog comprise a 3-unit team.

CCI specially breeds Labrador and golden retrievers for their programs. All dogs are taught to respond to at least 40 Service Dog commands. Hearing dogs receive additional specialized training. Except in the case of the 3 unit teams, a person must be at least 18 years old to be partnered with a CCI dog. Hearing Dogs and their partners are trained in Santa Rosa, Calif. Virginia residents are partnered with CCI dogs trained at the Northeast Region's Miller Campus in Medford, Long Island.

To apply for a dog, volunteer to raise a puppy, or make a donation visit or call 1-800-572-BARK.

CCI is a fully accredited voting member of Assistance Dogs International (ADI). ADI is a coalition of not for profit organizations that train and place Assistance Dogs. (

Their sister organization, International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) provides benefits to persons partnered with Assistance Dogs. (

Volunteer to Raise a CCI Puppy

The Lions Project for CCI, a non-profit organization, was formally founded in 1983 and to date has raised more then $2.5 million for CCI. Jim Purton serves as an Area Director. To schedule a presentation for your club or organization, contact him via the LPCCI web site at

Meeting a Service Dog

Assistance animals are not pets. They are working dogs with a designated job to fulfill.

  • When you meet someone partnered with a service dog do not interrupt the dog while it is working.
  • Do not make distracting noises that can divert the dog's attention from his task. Children should be taught not to taunt or distract the dog by making barking noises or other sounds.
  • If you want to interact, speak to the person, not the dog. Never touch the service dog without first getting permission from the dog's human partner.
  • Never offer food to a service dog and do not be offended if the person does not want you to touch or pet their dog.

These dogs are highly trained to respond to their partner/handler and unsolicited interaction with the public can deter them from their designated duty. Information on interacting with service dogs and applicable ADA legislation can be found at the Delta Society website at

Service Animal Guidance for Businesses

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. There is no requirement for the assistance animal to be licensed or certified by a state or local government.

The ADA requires businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.

A business may not segregate an individual with a service animal from other customers.

Businesses are not allowed to charge a deposit or surcharge to anyone with a disability, even if deposits are routinely required for pets. The law also applies to taxi services.

Information on Service Dog Laws can be found at Assistance Dogs International (ADI) at and at the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) at

Concerns about Service Dog requirements under ADA can also be obtained by calling the U.S. Department of Justice's toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TDD). You can also visit their web site at

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Pouches' Community Corner

Trains, Planes and Automobiles Kids' Race Series


From a small beginning, Cathy Weise of the Ron Rosner YMCA has developed an ambitious three-race series for kids for this summer, with the help of The Great Train Race, Shannon Airport, Dominion Raceway & Entertainment, the Fredericksburg Area Service League and Race Timing Unlimited.

Great Train Race Director Jennifer Taylor was one of the first on board.