Waiting to Meet My New Service Dog

Matt Lafleur avatar

by Matt Lafleur |

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I first encountered a service dog accompanying a person with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) three years ago. I had met my friend and fellow FARA ambassador Andrea and she had her beautiful black Lab, Ramada, with her. I could tell right away that Ramada was more than just a well-behaved pet because of the blue canvas vest she wore warning passers-by not to pet her. While it feels counterintuitive not to pat a dog, the rule is necessary to prevent the animal from becoming distracted from assisting its companion.

While I’d heard of service dogs and guide dogs for the visually impaired, I wasn’t aware of the existence of service dogs for people with ataxia. As I watched Ramada pick up items that Andrea had dropped — one effect of FA is a lack of hand coordination — and observed the dog’s obedient and comforting presence at her side, I made a decision.

I wanted a service dog.

My plan surprised me. I have never found it easy to ask for help — I prefer stubbornness.

I don’t know why I thought I was ready to apply for a service dog, but I was sure of my choice. With no idea where to start, I Googled “service dogs for ataxia.” One of the first results I clicked on seemed promising. I contacted Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), which offers service dogs for people with special needs, and even for veterans of the armed forces. The organization provides the dogs at no cost to approved applicants.

I encourage you to check out the organization’s YouTube channel to find out more about their amazing work.

Join the Friedreich’s Ataxia News forums: an online community for people with FA and their caregivers.

My application in 2017 was approved, and I attended an in-person interview in 2018. I was accepted, put on a waitlist, and told that it could take up to two years before I would receive a dog.

I recently received a phone call telling me I was to attend training at the end of this month. I will meet my dog and train with him or her for two weeks. Following graduation, I will be permitted to take my new canine companion home with me.

I have little information about the dog with which I will be placed; I don’t even know its sex. I have an idea of the breed as CCI uses Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and crosses of the two.

The wait is incredibly exciting. I don’t know you yet, my canine companion, but I will try my hardest to give you a good life. You will be lovedI hope you like me. I can’t wait to meet you.

In loving memory of Ramada (2006-2018). (Courtesy of Andrea Kiess)


Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.


Nancy Petersen, Clark's mom avatar

Nancy Petersen, Clark's mom

We could have written this! Clark is waiting for his too! It'll still be a year to a year and a half before s/he's ready but we're can't wait! SIT Service Dogs are the best!

Natalie Morrison, Andrew's mom avatar

Natalie Morrison, Andrew's mom

My son has FA and got a dog from Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) in February of this year. It has been such a great experience for him. CCI is the best organization for service dogs and we are so grateful for Davin, his dog. I always feel better when Davin is with Andrew. Enjoy team training! It's a fantastic experience!!

Kim Wilson avatar

Kim Wilson

Matt, I am a three time graduate of CCI and would like to warmly welcome you to the family! While my disabilities are different, the help a service dog provides is going to open so many doors for you! My second SD, a gorgeous black lab named Klintworth saved me so much time, pain, and frustration, I was able to go back to college and we maintained a 4.0! He was there as I went through chemo, radiation, and several surgeries.
Now I have Tansy; we graduated in Nov., 2015 and have not looked back! Among the things you will learn during Team Training is how to mold the commands your dog already knows into other uses...for instance, for us ‘tug’ includes helping me towel off after I shower.
Take a deep breath and hold on, Matt, your world is about to be changed in many beautiful ways! I will be watching your graduation and cheering for you and your new side kick! Again, welcome to the big, beautiful, and sometimes crazy family that is CCI.
ps...I kept a journal in my team training manual so I wouldn’t forget all the amazing things that happened.
SO excited for you!
Best regards from Team Tansy!

Matt Lafleur avatar

Matt Lafleur

Thanks so much for this awesome comment. It is great to read, especially since I head off to team training tomorrow! *fingers-crossed that I do well*

charles luckett avatar

charles luckett

ok matthew what region is your team training in ?
yaay my sd yoga and i want to know
regards charles

Matt Lafleur avatar

Matt Lafleur

Thank you for the reply Charles! My region is the south east region so I am headed to Orlando Florida starting tomorrow for my training! I am very nervous!

Barbara Novak avatar

Barbara Novak

One of the CCI Puppies we raised is a Successor Service Dog (his second CCI dog) for a gentleman in Virginia with FA. His name is also Matt! If you want me to give him your contact info e-mail me: [email protected]. He might be a good resource for you as you work with your new dog. Enjoy the journey!

Michelle Sanchez avatar

Michelle Sanchez

Hi Matt,
I live in Santa Rosa, CA and have FA. I have my 2nd CCI Bella, who is my entire world! My first girl Lyndall was my entire world as well! These dogs are amazing, and truly keep me going! You are going to love this experience, it is truly awesome! Congratulations, and welcome to the CCI family!!!!

Matt Lafleur avatar

Matt Lafleur

Thanks a lot for replying. It means a lot to me to hear that someone else with FA has a service dog. Sometimes I get really fearful that my own abilities may fall short of what the service dog needs!

Judy Giallongo avatar

Judy Giallongo

Hello to everyone out there. My husband, Mario Giallongo has FA (Friedreichs Ataxia) also. We have been with CCI for over 20 yrs. My husbands service dog is De Angelo and we have had him for 7 yrs. He is wonderful, what more could I tell you. He is Mario's successor service dog. We live in Northern Nevada (Tahoe area). If you would like to contact us please do. Your CCI companion will be the love of our life and will change your world for sure. Good luck and have a wonderful time meeting your new partner.

Matt Lafleur avatar

Matt Lafleur

This makes me so happy. Thank you for the comment! I am nervous but I am also very excited!

Daniel Gavern avatar

Daniel Gavern

Hi everyone,
Thank you for your comments and stories, they're a great resource! I have recently discovered I have (cerebellar) ataxia in the past 4 or 6 years. It's been a huge and frustrating learning curve. I am looking into a AD moving forward and does anyone have any additional recommendations? Thanks again and take care!

Animal People Dog Boarding & Day Care avatar

Animal People Dog Boarding & Day Care

I can sense your excitement and anticipation as you await the arrival of your service dog! It's wonderful that you found an organization like Canine Companions for Independence to help you on this journey. I'm sure your new companion will bring you immense joy, support, and a renewed sense of independence. I'm excited to hear updates about your training and how you and your new furry friend bond together.


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