TAMPA — Dr. Charles "Chuck" Paidas, USF Health's vice dean of medical education and chief of pediatric surgery, keeps a pocketful of goodies in his jackets.
But it's not what you may think. Paidas uses the treats to reward his dog Duke, not the young patients he treats.
And Duke — a young golden retriever — is no ordinary pooch.
The dog is the property of Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit that enhances the lives of veterans, other adults and children with disabilities. And Paidas and his wife, Marianne volunteer as puppy raisers for the organization.
It's a responsibility the couple took on in October when Duke was just 8-weeks-old, and one they will relinquish in May of next year. In the interim, they will teach him proper manners, some 30 commands, and prep him for another six months of rigorous training at the nonprofit's regional center in Orlando.
At age 2 Duke, like all other CCI dogs, will be matched with a recipient and then undergo another two weeks of intense training with the recipient.
From there, Duke will graduate to become that person's full-fledged assistance dog for eight to 10 years, before retiring and giving the handler the chance to own and care for the animal.
"It will be a sad time for us when Duke leaves us because there's no question you bond," Dr. Paidas said. "But, when a recipient match for him occurs there is no greater feeling."
Marianne Paidas, a retired teacher, does most of the day-to-day training with Duke out of their Tampa home and takes him with her almost everywhere she goes.
"I'm blessed to be able to do this," she said.
Land O' Lakes resident and U.S. Navy veteran Morton Stone suffers from multiple back problems and is largely confined to a wheelchair. He says his day-to-day life has improved dramatically since CCI matched him three years ago with Oscar VI, a Labrador/golden retriever mix.
The dog brings him his clothes and helps him dress and undress. He picks up items off the floor, puts things in the trash can, and systematically opens and closes doors, including the refrigerator.
"I used to have to call Sara (his wife) every time I dropped something or needed anything," Stone said. "He's changed both of our lives for the better."
The public is invited to meet Duke, Oscar and their respective handlers at the second annual Tampa DogFest Walk 'n Roll from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday (Feb. 12) at USF Health Children's Medical Services, 12901 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.
The free, family-friendly event also welcomes masters with well-behaved dogs on leashes. It will be filled with fun activities for folks and pooches of all ages. There's a $1 charge for the various happenings and vendors will be on site to sell food items.
With the Lutz-Land O'Lakes Woman's Club and USF Health as its "Top Dog" co-sponsors, all proceeds will benefit CCI, which spends an average of $50,000 to train a single dog.
Edwina Kraemer, a Lutz-Land O' Lakes Woman's Club member, and event chair, came away impressed after touring the CCI's operation in Orlando.
"It's just very close to my heart," Kraemer said. "I love dogs, I love veterans and I know this is what I'm supposed to do."
Contact Joyce McKenzie at [email protected]