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Gala Celebration for Canine Companions for Independence

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One of my favorite organizations, Canine Companions for Independence is having its annual Hearts & Heroes Gala on April 3rd in New York City. Canine Companions provides free service dogs to people with disabilities. I admire them for the work they do with veterans. They have given these highly trained dogs to more than 100 veterans in the past 20 years. The dogs assist veterans with physical disabilities as well as those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This year's honorees represent four different types of facility placements. Working in the legal system, in a rehabilitation setting, in special needs schools as well as working with wounded veterans. What these dogs do is remarkable.

Those singled out for their work with Canine Companions include:

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan witnessed a demonstration about the calming effects a "court dog" can have on a distressed witness. He immediately decided that it would be great to have a dog from Canine Companions working with people who were victims of a violent crime and children who have been abused. Victim's advocate Mary Santaromita and Detective Kevin Ivany spend two works training with a black lab/golden retriever cross called Bronksey. The dog is now a highly respected and integral part of the District Attorney's office.

Dr. Sandra "Buffy"Wojciehowski is a successful graduate of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Seton Hall. She works out of the renowned Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange, New Jersey.

Currently there are five of Canine Companions facility dogs working with patients to motivate them. One of Dr. Wojciehowski's patients is 23 year old Eric LeGrand, a defensive player on the Rutgers football team until a tackle left him paralyzed from the neck down in 2010. Eric credits part of his success in therapy with Willie, a Canine Companions dog that trained with Dr. Wojciehowski. "She's incredibly understanding and totally devoted," said LeGrand. Willie helps LeGrand push himself harder in his therapy. "I find her to be a great motivator as well as a wonderful companion," he added.

Amy Mahoney is founder of the New York-based non-profit "Peaceful Minds" Military Wellness Program. The organization is dedicated to the healing of our "Silently Wounded" combat veterans. They suffer from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse and other mental health disorders. Department of Defense statistics show that death by suicide now outnumbers combat related deaths for military men and women. Amy's therapy dog Nyak has formed an immediate bond with the veteran, who she routinely treats with therapeutic massage, acupuncture, and Yoga, all at no charge

Cheryl Avino is a social worker for New Jersey's vaunted ECLC based in Ho-Ho-Kus. Helps students with special needs, including autism, Down syndrome and severe learning disabilities. In 2009, Cheryl graduated from Team Training with Facility Dog Patrina, who has quickly become the darling for the schools rehabilitation program. Students work with Patrina during their physical therapy, train with her through agility courses, or spend time relaxing and petting her. The Ho-Ho Kus school won a prestigious "Above & Beyond" award from WABC-TV for its innovative use of a facility dog.

Canine Companions for Independence has a direct impact on the lives of thousands of people. Their extraordinary dogs are making a difference whether in the military, criminal justice, a rehabilitation facility or a school. I hope you will join me in supporting their mission.

Canine Companions for Independence Hearts & Heroes honoring the "Heeling" work of Canine Companions Facility Teams. Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 at the Grand Hyatt NY, 109 E. 42nd St. 6-9pm. Silent and Live Auction featuring guest auctioneer the Honorable Thomas DiNapoli, NY State Comptroller.