April 28 Speaker Recap – Canine Companions for Independence

Melissa Billingsley with Hilty and Lotus

Melissa Billingsley with Hilty and Lotus

Melissa Billingsley of Billingsley Veterinary Clinic and a volunteer for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), introduced her hearing dog, Hilty and puppy-in-training Lotus. Melissa has a lifelong hearing loss, which was undiagnosed until she went through the process of applying to work for the CA Highway Patrol in 2010.

Canine Companions was founded in 1975; the main campus is in Santa Rosa. Currently, dogs are trained in several categories: service, skilled companions, facility / public venues, wounded warriors with PTSD.

Canine Companions for Independence in training - Lotus

Canine Companions for Independence in training – Lotus

These dogs are free to recipients, with lifetime training and financial assistance. The training costs $50,000 and is supplemented by royalties from the Charles Schulz Foundation. The dogs are on loan to recipients and must maintain an ideal weight and health. The dogs can have a working life of 8-10 years.

The application process begins with an online form; followed by a 15-page hard copy application; a phone interview; medical exam; meeting with staff. There’s a wait list of at least a year. Once accepted, recipients live on the Santa Rosa campus for two weeks to undergo training with their dogs, to be sure there’s a good

Melissa Billingsley providing an overview

Melissa Billingsley providing an overview


Mandatory sounds the dogs learn are doorbell, timer, dropped keys, fire alarm, person’s name. They can learn many more sounds as fits the owner’s lifestyle. They are rewarded with kibble.

The dogs get physical exams to qualify; only 30% pass. The puppies are fostered to learn socialization skills and are taught 30 basic commands. This process decides which category they’ll be assigned to.

Canine Companions has the highest success rate with pure Labs, pure Golden Retrievers and a mix of the two. Chocolate labs are too high-spirited and distract easily. Dogs are spayed and neutered.

If Canine Companions standards aren’t met, dogs go to other agencies to work as service, seizure or bomb sniffing dogs.

Recipients can have up to three dogs in the home, plus the hearing dog. Cats and other pets are OK.

Hilty demonstrated alerts for doorbell, hone and bed alarm.