Patient Stories

Students Bond over CCI Dog

CCI dog Honest

It was a small world for Caitlin Bottcher when she took her Canine Companion for Independence (CCI) dog, Honest, to the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital. She was surprised to find out that veterinary student Natalie Rupp, who has experience with CCI dogs, would be providing the care for Honest.

For several years, Rupp and her family have helped raise CCI dogs, like Honest. They get the puppies when they are only eight weeks old and immediately begin a strict 15-month protocol to train them to become assistance dogs.

“We train them with specific commands just as you would a family dog, but the commands are always the same for every puppy,” says Rupp. “For instance, we say ‘stand’ instead of ‘up,’ ‘here’ instead of ‘come,’ and ‘hurry’ instead of ‘potty.’”

The consistency in the CCI commands keeps it standardized for everyone needing an assistance dog.

Caitlin Bottcher, Honest, Natalie Rupp
Caitlin Bottcher and her CCI dog, Honest, take a photo with fourth-year student Natalie Rupp, who surprised them with her knowledge of CCI commands.

“It’s meant to help those needing assistance have an easier time with the transition [to a new animal],” says Rupp.

Bottcher, a junior in human development and family studies at the University of Illinois College of ACES, and Honest became a service team in November. Since then, he helps her on a daily basis.

“Honest has been trained to recognize about 40 different commands. He pushes elevator buttons, opens doors, and picks up various items off the floor,” says Bottcher. “He also has been a huge source of emotional support and comfort in my life.”

Bottcher was relieved to know Honest would be in good hands during his appointment.

“I was very happy that Honest was being cared for by someone who has experience with service dogs—specifically Canine Companions for Independence dogs,” says Bottcher. “Natalie knew all of his commands and was not intimidated at all by the fact that he is a working dog.”

Rupp was happy that she could help comfort both Bottcher and Honest during their visit. (Rupp even knew who raised Honest.)

“Caitlin had mentioned to me that she was so thankful I had been scheduled for her appointment because many veterinarians don’t know how to handle Honest and don’t know his commands. She commented about how safe she felt when we had our appointment,” says Rupp. “And since her Facebook post about the coincidence, I’ve had a few people message me saying they are coming into the Veterinary Teaching Hospital for their CCI dogs’ appointment and would like to meet me.”

The encounter has also reminded Rupp how gratifying it is to raise CCI dogs.

“Raising a CCI dog seems intimidating but it’s something anyone with dog experience can do,” says Rupp. “It’s incredibly hard to give the puppy away after your 15 months with it, but when you see that dog in action with his ‘person’ later, it’s the most rewarding feeling I’ve ever felt!”

—Nora McKay