Viva La Tortilla!

I never had a dog in my life. I wasn’t ever asked to dog sit and I didn’t ever spend more than a couple of hours with dogs who belonged to friends or family. I felt certain that at some point in the future I would own a dog, but I never had a lifestyle that would justify having a dog. I didn’t have a predictable schedule, I traveled a lot, and spent many weekends away from home.

It was in the initial years after my injury that I first learned about service dogs and what they could do for people with spinal cord injuries. I met a few people with service dogs and only then did I start to comprehend just how amazing these pets were. Not only were they well-trained to perform a variety of tasks for their owners, they were also bred and raised to be docile, calm, and friendly to nearly every person (and other pet) they met. I found out that the primary organization raising these dogs — Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) — was based an hour north of my home. I did some research, found out that I would easily qualify, and I began the application process.

After many months of paperwork, phone calls, and an in-person interview, I was placed on the waitlist and told it would take two years to get my dog. During that time, I didn’t think much about the dog since I knew that it was a very long time to wait and I wanted to manage my expectations and delay the excitement until the opportunity finally arrived.

A couple of months ago, the long wait finally came to an end when I was invited to attend team training at CCI’s headquarters and get my dog. This would involve two full weeks of me living at their campus and spending entire days learning everything about these dogs in general, and how to work with my dog in particular.

As I began the two-week training I was simultaneously excited, yet nervous. I had spent all of the time since my spinal cord injury working towards improving my body while also learning how to move through the world and navigate through my day-to-day activities and I still had plenty of struggles and challenges.

And so I wondered, how would having a dog impact everything? Of course, it would help me in a number of ways, but how could I take care of another living thing when I could barely handle myself?

This is where I have to give huge credit to CCI and their program. From beginning to end, they had everything covered. They had informative lectures, plenty of hands-on training with the dogs, and a dedicated staff of dog trainers who were thorough, committed to ensuring our success, and willing to answer questions, of which I had many. The rooms and common areas they provided for us to live in were clean, well appointed, organized, and comfortable.

Most importantly, at the end of the two weeks, not only did I feel confident and capable of the many aspects of caring for my new companion, I was excited to bring home my dog and start a new chapter of life with a new friend.

Which brings me to Tortilla.

He’s awesome, and yes, that’s his name. Because they spend two years teaching them 40+ commands and meticulously training them using their names, CCI gives the dogs their name for life. Anyone who knows me will appreciate the fact that I got the one dog in the entire group that had a food related name, not to mention such a delicious item essential to a taco, burrito, enchilada, chimichanga, and many more. And it doesn’t hurt that he kinda looks like a tortilla…

So far it has been fantastic. I’ve surprised even myself with how quickly I’ve adapted to life with Tortilla and how much help, pleasure, and pure joy I get from having him with me. He charms everyone he meets and he even gets along with our sweet, yet temperamental, cat.

A huge thank you to Canine Companions for Independence for everything they did for me, not to mention the thousands of other lives they have helped over the years.

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35 thoughts on “Viva La Tortilla!

  1. Congrats Arash! When did you and Tortilla graduate? I’m sitting in CCI’s Vet clinic as I type…Perry volunteers in the clinic every Tuesday, with her CCI helper, Herbie, supervising her exams. 😊🐕♿️ Like me, Herbie is kept busy as Perry volunteers at Guide Dog for the Blind clinic on Mondays, she still works out at SCI-FIT on Thursdays, and swims laps on Saturdays. Hope you are keeping active too, and so glad to hear you now have Tortilla in your life! CCI tells us all during our training that these dogs are not robots, but honestly in the dozen Goldens we had adopted over the years from service dog programs before Perry’s accident, NONE of them were as well behaved, well trained, and as lovable as Herbie. CCI volunteers and staff do an unbelievable job creating these helpers. So glad you are lucky enough to have one too. Hugs to you and Tortilla….Carey and Perry, & Herbie too!

    1. Thanks Carey! Nice to hear from you and glad to hear that your experience with Herbie is still going well. Yes I’m definitely still staying active and working hard. That will not end anytime soon 😉 Best to all three of you -AB

  2. Arash:

    I’m so happy that you got a service dog. I used to train them for Guiding Eyes for the Blind as well as done a little with PTSD service dogs and they can really add to your life. Not only as companions who are completely accepting of you but they can help you do things so you don’t have to ask someone else to help. They are amazingly smart and so dedicated. I’ve been thinking of getting back into training service dogs again & I’ve heard of CCI. I think i’ll look them up to see if I can help.


    1. If there’s anything I can do to help or to help make the connections with CCI, please let me know. I know you have a ton of experience training dogs and think you could contribute so much. They have puppy raising programs that are all volunteer-run which may be a good fit for you. Happy to chat more privately. All the best to you -AB

  3. this is awesome! I can’t wait to meet you in 2 weeks, Tortilla! the part that he looks like a tortilla cracked me up!

    On Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 2:33 PM, Arash Recovery wrote:

    > AB posted: “I never had a dog in my life. I wasn’t ever asked to dog sit > and I didn’t ever spend more than a couple of hours with dogs who belonged > to friends or family. I felt certain that at some point in the future I > would own a dog, but I never had a lifestyle th” >

  4. So excited for you that you got a dog! The unconditional love they give brings me joy everyday! I am sure you will experience the same!

  5. It is a great match!! Tortilla fits right in with you and Brita and everyone you know. It is also great that he can share time with Zeke and they can enjoy fetch together!

    Cheers, linda

    On Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 11:33 AM, Arash Recovery wrote:

    > AB posted: “I never had a dog in my life. I wasn’t ever asked to dog sit > and I didn’t ever spend more than a couple of hours with dogs who belonged > to friends or family. I felt certain that at some point in the future I > would own a dog, but I never had a lifestyle th” >

  6. I am thrilled for you, Arash. I have always had dogs, apart from the years I spent at sea, and I could not imagine life without their unconditional love. Congratulations and welcome Tortilla!

  7. Hey Arash. Dan Stewart here. I read all you write, an incredible inspiration to lots no doubt. Was in the City 2 weeks ago—both my mom ( passed away in January) and dad are at the Presidio. Was an awesome SF day. Puffy clouds, perfect blue skies, fragrance of eucalyptus all over. Such a cool place. A miniature Arlington. Kids are 39, 36,22,21, 19 and 17. I’m 69 on Monday. Gosh that sounds ancient. Europe in May for the guitar business. 2nd year. Love to catch up. Still active as can be. Bought a peloton staionary bike 2 years ago. Love it. Ride every day.
    Love your stories. Tortilla is the lucky one. Good to know you. God Bless

  8. Oh this is so darling! We have adored our dogs and this one is so special..I’m sure you will be great pals. Sometimes on the evolutionary chain I think they are ahead of us! Thanks for sharing and laisser les bons temps rouler – together! >

  9. I miss at times not having a pet, isn’t very practical at this point in my life… we’ll see in the future?

    A really nice article Arash… we do indeed often times get from relationships more than we might expect!

    Take care of your good self… although should I be saying this to the ‘dog’ as isn’t this partly his new found role now?


  10. Arash
    It’s Tony’s Aunt Molly. I’m thrilled you got a CCI dog. I first learned about them roughly 5 years ago while reading Dean Koontz’ book “A Big Little Life” about his dog, Trixie. I wanted to learn more – So, I went to a graduation. I then adopted a retired service dog (Schumann) who was amazing, And, just last June, I adopted an 18-month old puppy (Caramel) that “wasn’t quite the right fit” for the program. Tortilla sounds wonderful. I am so happy to read this. Best of luck!

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