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In the Spotlight

 Editors Note:  Nicole Milano was recently recognized for her service dog training efforts, by Councilman Anthony P. D’Esposito.  In a letter from Councilman Esposito, he commended Nicole for her dedication to the service dog assistance program and for her commitment as a life skills coach for individuals with disabilities. 

“Teamwork Turns Two Canine Enthusiasts to Dog Trainers with a Purpose”

Nicole Milano has been a life skills coach since 2015 and has been supporting PJ for 2 years.  She knows first-hand what a service dog means to someone with special needs, her brother, John has Down Syndrome.   Nicole noted,  “My family had a service dog through Canine Companions for Independence, (CCI) and when the dog passed away, I wanted to give back to the organization.  With that, I thought it would be a great opportunity for PJ and me to do it together.  When I told PJ and his family about the opportunity, they were very excited to join in.”

Service dog training is a long, arduous process that takes dedication, time, repetition, and plenty of patience.  It’s critical that the dog successfully executes a sequence of hurdles designed to evaluate the dog’s behavior in distracting environments.

PJ is 24 years old and has been Self-Directing full-time for 2 years. He likes to play basketball, video games, guitar, take classes, visit zoos, museums and is learning many great things with Nicole, but training Hilo, a black lab puppy to be a service dog has been the biggest challenge for him since he started Self-direction. “Training a service dog and knowing I’m helping someone in need, makes me feel good.  It has also helped me become more confident in my volunteering as a dog walker for my neighbors.” PJ remarks, “Training Hilo has been so much fun. I like to help bathe him and walk with him whenever I can. I feed him, brush him and love him like my own pet. We have to teach Hilo all his basic commands, like sit and down, as well as some harder ones like knowing his right from left. We also have to bring Hilo on field trips to places like King Kullen and Coney Island Aquarium to get him used to behaving around everyday distractions.”  Nicole comments, “Since receiving the puppy, PJ has become more confident and assertive when giving commands to Hilo and in every day conversations with others. PJ and I still have about a year of work, to get Hilo ready to become a full-fledged service dog. When he passes his final tests and is placed with a family, we will both be very happy to have helped a family who needs him.

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In other endeavors, Nicole works with PJ four days a week doing lots of things. Tennis lessons, class on college campus, volunteer at a hospital and attend a craft class. “Our schedule changes when PJ develops interest in new things. I encourage him to try new things and he is very receptive,” says Nicole.  PJ’s take on anyone considering Self-Direction, is to try it. I have tried so many things with my staff. If we find something is not good, we come up with another plan. I am in great shape because I take tennis lessons and go to the gym, enjoy the beach, pool and parks. Nicole and I make a great team and it’s been so much fun to do things with her.


About CCI 

Canine Companions for Independence, is a nationally recognized, non-profit organization, that provides highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to individuals with disabilities.   This includes hearing dogs, specifically trained to alert their partners to important sounds (such as fire alarms, and doorbells), assisting their partner with daily tasks, to help increase the individual’s independence, and to support veterans with PTSD or other disabilities.


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