Regina Benjamin (left) and Jane Nagy


Regina Benjamin (left) and Jane Nagy have trained 28 puppies between them for Canine Companions for Independence. The women are pictured with Yacht, who is on top of Nebraska.

Jennifer Pottheiser

Training a retriever puppy, all paws and thumping tail, to be a good pet can have its trying, if endearing, moments, and alumnae Jane Nagy and Regina Benjamin wouldn’t have it any other way. As volunteer trainers for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), the California-based national organization that prepares more than 250 dogs annually to assist people with disabilities, each woman gets a new eight-week-old puppy practically every year and spends 18 months socializing and preparing it for an arduous nine months of canine boot camp at CCI’s regional headquarters in Long Island. During the past 20 years, Nagy DC’81 has trained 17 puppies (while cofounding the New Jersey Chapter of CCI and serving as its president for 13 years), and Benjamin DC’80 has trained 11 dogs in 15 years. In the process, the lives of the dogs, the trainers, and the benefactors are transformed.

“There comes that humble moment when I hand over the leash—and a piece of my heart—to change somebody’s life,” says Benjamin, who was introduced to the organization, and Nagy, in 1998. “We get back so much more than we put in—like the young woman on Staten Island who thanked me for giving her life back to her—as well the life of her 10-year-old son, who could now be a boy and not have to attend to the needs of his mother.”

Before a recipient is given a dog—Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, or a mixture of the two—puppy trainers such as Nagy and Benjamin acclimate the growing puppies to be comfortable in public places and amid crowds, teach them up to 30 commands, and chaperone them to bimonthly training classes where fellow trainers share their copious notes on best practices (“It can take a village with some dogs,” says Nagy). It’s all part of the process of matching exceptional dogs with exceptional people. “Each pup brings much love and laughter into his partner’s life,” says Nagy, “and that has made our heartbreak of giving a puppy back to Canine Companions for Independence worth every tear.”

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