One student’s best friend

By Elizabeth Bracey

“Ditto can pick up dropped items, pull open doors/drawers if there’s rope tied to the doors. He knows more than 30 commands and, most importantly, he’s my best friend,” said Kean University student Nicholas Tyler.

Tyler, 21 and a junior, is talking about his service dog, Ditto, a 2-year-old Golden Retriever. Tyler has cerebral palsy and he was paired with his highly trained assistance dog last August. Both share an unbelievable bond.

Just ask Tyler, who lives in Brick, New Jersey with his parents, his younger brother and his canine companion, Ditto. Tyler takes classes virtually through Kean Ocean County College and also attends classes for his elective courses. Tyler communicates mostly with a computer program called SmartNav, which uses a hands-free mouse that allows control of a computer through head motion.

Ditto is a part of Canine Companions for Independence. CCI is a non-profit organization that trains and provides service dogs for an adult or child with a disability under the guidance of a facilitator.

“Canine Companions for Independence is privately funded through individual foundations and corporations,” said Debra Dougherty, executive director of CCI.

The breeding program, located in Santa Rose, Calif., is home for the assistance dogs until they are paired with a person with disabilities. The participant has to go through a written, oral and in-person application and interview process to be considered for review. CCI then finds a dog that is suitable and will invite the participant to come to team training.

“Nick and Ditto returned to Brick, N.J. after completing CCI’s recent Team Training Class, an intense, two-week course held at CCI’s Northeast Regional Center in Medford, N.Y. – one of five such centers nationwide. The Northeast Regional Center serves a 13-state area from Maine to Virginia,” according to CCI publicist John Bentzinger.

With the help of Ditto, life is much more easier for Tyler. Ditto is Nick’s second Canine Companion. He had his first dog, Titus, from 2000 to 2010, when Titus died from a brain tumor. Tyler’s ultimate goal is to build software to make technology easier to use for disabled people at little or no cost.

“For tips on how to receive a dog companion go to cci.org and select the region you live in then there should be contact info to answer all questions,” said Tyler. 

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