September 2, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
72°F

Preschoolers’ furry classmate devotes life to service

When the fire alarm went off Tuesday at Medina Weekday Preschool, only one member of the class kept his cool. That was Chili, a service dog in training, whose ability to stay calm could one day save someone’s life.

Staicey Scholtz, a teacher at the school, brings Chili to class twice a week to socialize the 14-month-old yellow Labrador.

Chili, 14 months, sits as 4- and 5-year-olds at Medina Weekday Preschool make crafts Tuesday. Teacher Staicey Scholtz takes Chili, a service dog in training, to the school twice a week to help socialize him. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NICK GLUNT)

“What’s better to teach him to overcome distractions than 12 preschoolers?” Scholtz said.

Canine Companions for Independence, a national organization based in Santa Rosa, Calif., gives the dogs for free to those who need them. They help sick, disabled and elderly people open doors, grab objects and alert them to dangers.

Scholtz said the first service dog she trained went to a woman “who has told me she wouldn’t be able to live alone without him. He’s a companion for her day and night.”

Chili has been living with Scholtz since he was 2 months old.

Scholtz said it’s her job within the organization to care for the dogs when they’re puppies — including paying for food and veterinarian visits — until it’s time for them to move on.

“It’s bittersweet to see them go,” she said. “I know from the beginning I won’t have them forever, so it’s not as hard as you’d think. Instead, you’re crying because you’re proud.”

In August, Chili will return to Canine Companions for Independence for “college.” If he passes, he’ll go on to become a full-fledged service dog.

She said Chili is the third dog she’s raised. The first dog, Elroy, lives with a woman in Alexandria, Minn., and the second, Bishop, was released from the program and lives with her.

Her fourth dog, Ben, arrived Friday.

“He’s not ready to come to school yet,” she said.

Scholtz said she loves the program because it gives her the opportunity to help people.

“I can see myself doing this for a long time,” Scholtz said. “It’s the perfect way to give back.”

For more information on Canine Companions for Independence or to apply to be a volunteer puppy-raiser, visit www.cci.org.

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.