Episode 86: Featuring Canine Companions for Independence and Operation Engage America

Mary Milton & Sondra Thiederman - Canine Companions for Independence

Mary Milton and Sondra Thiederman both volunteers with Canine Companions for Independence sat down with Rise Up Radio host James Carmody to unpack just what Canine Companions for Independence does and how they both became involved in it’s important work in helping people with disabilities gain independence. Milton is the Chair for DogFest and is currently training her third puppy for Canine Companions. She explains to host, James Carmody, how she became involved with the nonprofit organization. “My husband and I had Newfoundland, big waterdogs, the last Newfoundland his name was Wizard of Oz, and I used him as a therapy dog and he was a crisis response dog, so we spent many many hours together doing community work, and eventually we lost him just shy of 11 years of age. When that happened I just thought I can’t go through this again. I cannot say goodbye to another pet so that is how I came to Canine Companions.” Thiederman is the Southwest Regional Board Vice President for Canine Companions and also a puppy raiser, she is currently training her 11th puppy. She talks about her love for dogs but explains, “The real thing about Canine Companions is the people and the lives that they change. That’s the real draw for me. The dogs are fantastic, but the human beings that live more independent lives, that’s what gets me teared up actually.” She goes on to say, “The thing too about them that touches me is that these dogs are free of charge to the recipient. They cost roughly $50,000 to create and we’re purely funded by outside funding.” Canine Companions for Independence began in 1975 in Santa Rosa, it provides specially trained assistant dogs to kids, veterans and adults who have special needs with physical, cognitive and/or development disabilities. Dogs are trained in four types of assistance from retrieving dropped items to pulling wheelchairs. Milton and Thiederman discuss how the puppies are raised and trained, and how they are matched with their recipients. They also discuss the upcoming DogFest Walk & Run which will be a day of fun, graduation speakers and demonstrations. The event will be held Oct. 21 and is free to the public.


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Howard & Jean Somers - Operation Engage America 

Howard and Jean Somers, Co-Founders of Operation Engage America sat down with Rise Up Radio Host, James Carmody to talk about the reason they started Operation Engage America and the impact they hope to have in helping veterans and their families. The Somers' youngest son Daniel, committed suicide in June 2013. Daniel joined the California Army National Guard in 2003, he was deployed to Iraq when the government was using the Guard as regular army due to the low number of regular troops at the time. His father, Howard explains after he returned from his deployment he attended the Defense Language Institute, majoring in Arabic. He went on to work for a non-government contractor in DC as an intelligence analyst and in 2007 volunteered to take a position in Iraq. “He told us he was at a secure location on a secure base, as it turns out we found out later he was actually going out on missions with special forces. Came back and he was totally different. He was a changed person. He was withdrawn, he was depressed. He was not the same person. Definitely exhibited suicidal tendencies, we found out later that he was even exhibiting suicidal thoughts after his first deployment but we were not aware of that until much later,” His father said. His parents explain how Daniel got caught up in the whole VA mess and had trouble getting a long term relationship established at the VA with mental health providers. They discovered their son was not only struggling with mental health issues but also had multiple Traumatic Brain Injuries all of which Daniel explained in his suicide letter. “Because of that and because of what happened to him we decided that, since we did not know how to approach him, we did not know what resources were available for him what resources were available for us, we decided to do something about that to hopefully help others in the same situation by creating this organization that attempts to bring together resources in local communities with veterans and their families and first-responders so that they know what resources are available to them so that they don’t get to the stage that Daniel got to and our family is in at this point.” The veteran suicide rate is 20 per day and out of that 20, 14 have not touched the VA, and only three out of the six that do make contact with the VA are actually seen by Mental Health providers. Operation Engage America is working to initiate conversations with our government to get in how it can make a change and get suicide prevention and mental health talked about.



1. Canine Companions for Independence is holding their DogFest San Diego on Saturday, October 21st in NTC Park at Liberty Station. DogFest registration starts at 8am and the walk begins at 9am followed by a day full of fun! Be sure to head over to their website to register and learn more! 

2. Howard and Jean with Operation Engage America want to make sure our community is aware of all the resources that are available for those in need in hopes to reduce to number of Veteran suicides, along with other issues of financial insecurities, mental health problems and homelessness. Head over to their website to learn how we can all Rise Up together and spread awareness.