A Girl's Best Friend
A Girl's Best Friend


Wherever teenager Cindi Lashinsky went, you were sure to find her best friend, Regina. The two traveled to Disney World, where they strode up Main Street USA and merrily rode "It's a Small World"; they hung out at the mall and watched movies; Regina even tagged along when Cindi went to her Judaic high school classes in Miami. And each month, Cindi tracked the progress of her friend- noting whether Regina maintained eye contact, growled, and chewed items. No, Regina wasn't your typical pal- the four-legged furry friend was a pup training to become an assistance dog.

Assistance dogs help people with disabilities by performing duties such as retrieving dropped items, opening doors, and turning on and off light switches. Over the past three-and-a-half years, 18-year-old Cindi has trained four dogs through Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). She takes home the cuddly Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers when they're helpless pups of 8 weeks and cares for them for the next year or so. She gives them lots of love, house trains them, and teaches them 30 commands before returning them to CCI for advanced training.

Not every puppy makes it through the training process. For example, Regina didn't finish because of medical problems. But Cindi's puppy Satin successfully graduated and now assists an 11-year-old girl who has Down syndrome and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

"When I got the phone call that Satin was going to graduate, I absolutely collapsed in tears," recalls Cindi. "It was such an incredible feeling of pride to have this puppy that I'd been given at 8 weeks of age as a little ball of fluff and to know I played a role in preparing her to change someone's life, to become someone's helpmate."

It's important, though, to never overwork the companion dogs, says Cindi. The Torah gives us permission to use animals for our benefit, but this is balanced with the Jewish concept of tza'ar ba'alei hayyim (kindness to animals), which says we must be sensitive to animals. Therefore, when Cindi's pups aren't training, "they have a lot of fun. They go swimming, they chase tennis balls, they play Frisbee," she says.

"With the pups always at my side, we become best friends... When the dog leaves, it's incredibly hard," says Cindi, her voice rising passionately. "But I'm proud for taking that puppy and having raised her into an adult that's ready to go out into the world and help someone."

Doggone Good Advice
Let’s “paws” for Cindi’s tips on raising puppies.

  • Be prepared for sacrifices. You’ll have to clean up after accidents, walk the dog in the rain, and perhaps deal with having your favorite shoes chewed up.
  • Never punish your dog. Dogs don’t do things out of spite or revenge. If there’s a problem, you need to address why it’s happening rather than punish your dog.
  • Feed your dog a healthy diet of love and attention. “If you want something to pick up only when you feel like it, you shouldn’t be getting a living animal that has needs and feelings,” says Cindi.