Cumberland Times-News

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January 19, 2013

Local residents will walk trained dogs in inaugural parade

CUMBERLAND — A Westernport girl, 13-year-old Emma Banner, along with three other locals, will be in the presidential inaugural parade on Monday as part of a contingent representing the Canine Companions for Independence.

The CCI is one of only 59 organizations to be selected out of 2,800 applicants to be in the inaugural parade.

Emma, her mother, Cara Banner, along with Stuart and Susan Sommers of Frostburg and their beloved dogs will march down Pennsylvania Avenue in President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade as part of a 130-person, 50-dog group representing the service dog organization.

CCI is the nation’s largest nonprofit provider of highly trained assistance dogs in the country.

“It’s an honor to represent the organization in the parade,” said Cara.

CCI provides trained Labrador or golden retrievers, or a mix of the breeds, to special needs people to perform a variety of functions from hearing, facility or skilled companion dogs to assistance for wounded veterans.

Emma with her mother and their dog, Bud, are what’s known as a skilled companion team.

The team consists of a facilitator, who is Cara, the dog, and the recipient, which is Emma.

Cara said the addition of the dog has been great for Emma, who is nonverbal due to a rare disease known as Kleefstra syndrome, which is caused by a chromosome deletion.

“Emma got her dog in May of 2010. It’s been a big boost to her confidence,” said Cara.

“The dog is her constant friend and companion. Before it was what can’t she do; now it is what can she do,” said Cara.

Stuart and Susan Sommers are volunteer puppy raisers with CCI. They are now with their ninth dog, named Newcomb.

The Sommers family was delighted to hear CCI was picked for the parade.

“I was shocked. I’m so excited for CCI,” said Susan. “I’m glad for the exposure. We’ll get to reach a lot of people who may want to donate or volunteer.”

The Sommers family receives a puppy from CCI when the dog is 8 weeks old and trains the dog until it reaches 18 months.

“We teach them 40 basic commands. At 18 months, they go to Long Island, New York, for six months of advanced training before they are placed,” said Susan.

When the dog has finished all its training, applicants who are selected to receive a dog will go for two weeks of training to learn what the dog knows, said Susan.

The Sommers family gets very attached to the puppy.

“People ask, ‘How can you give it back?’ We love each of them but the dog has a bigger mission. They will be a miracle for an exceptional person one day,” said Susan.

CCI holds a graduation ceremony for dogs that are ready to move on.

“Everyone is crying their eyes out,” said Susan.

CCI is headquartered in Santa Rosa, Calif., where the dogs are bred. The country is then broken into regions for distribution, with Allegany County placed in the North East Region.

The process is free for everyone involved with CCI, including the recipient.

“Bud is a serious dog when he is working. At home he lets his guard down and plays and becomes a pet,” said Cara.

The Sommers family teaches the puppies basic commands such as: sit, stay, fetch, pick up, walking on the right or left, turns and more.

“We also have to socialize the dogs to be around the public and be around churches, libraries, the post office and other places,” said Susan.

“It’s all about giving. People light up when they see the dogs,” said Susan.

The local group will board a bus to arrive at the Pentagon at 8:30 a.m. to be searched by the Secret Service before going to a holding area for the parade.

Cara said that CCI’s position in the parade will be in the fourth unit with the Air Force.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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