Dragon helps Wantagh youth raise $5K


Luke Tordy lives with a real live dragon. Dragon is the name of the Labrador-golden retriever mix Luke received at no cost from Canine Companions for Independence, a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based nonprofit that provides service dogs for people with a range of disabilities.

Luke, 14, set out to break all previous CCI fundraising records for this weekend’s DogFest Long Island 2018 Walk ’n’ Roll on Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Tanger Outlets in Deer Park. Having achieved his original goal, Luke said he wanted to keep fundraising for the organization that gave him Dragon.

Luke and his parents were interested in finding a canine companion for Luke, and Luke saw Dragon’s picture on CCI’s website, he said he hoped they could be matched. “It turned out that Luke and Dragon were a perfect fit,” said John Bentzinger, CCI’s public relations and media coordinator.

“It just made sense to me to see what I could do,” Luke said of the fundraising challenge. Luke said he is very much aware of CCI’s fundraising needs.

Last year, hundreds of people from all across the Northeast gathered for DogFest Long Island, which features a costume contest, demonstrations of the companions’ capabilities, and stories of graduate teams who have lived and worked together.

Canine Companions began providing dogs to the physically, emotionally and developmentally disabled in 1975. Since then, trainers have given companion dogs to more than 5,750 people, including people in wheel chairs, the deaf, people with autism and returning war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The national organization has a number of regional centers, including one on Long Island, where puppies receive their initial training before being assigned to volunteer puppy trainers. The puppy trainers teach their dogs some 30 basic commands and help them become socialized in a wide range of situations, including school, church, the bank, public entertainments — anywhere an active human is likely to go.

At the end of their puppy training, the dogs return to the regional centers for several months of targeted training. Depending on the dog, they will be given specialized training for specific disabilities. For example, dogs who will be companions for people in wheelchairs need to be able to open doors, turn on lights and carry shopping bags. Dogs with deaf companions need to be able to answer the doorbell or respond to alarms.

The dogs, who belong to CCI, are provided at no cost to their human companions. The two usually remain together for life. CCI also provides for the animals’ health care needs. But each animal costs upwards of $50,000 to train and care for.

This year’s DogFest Walk ’n’ Roll begins at 10:30 a.m. at the Tanger Outlets in Deer Park, located at 152 The Arches Circle in Deer Park. For more information, call (516) 330-6457 or via email at jbentzinger@cci.org.