CJ and Vickie Smith – Southeast Region
Vickie and CJ Smith are the true definition of optimism and positivity. When their daughter was going away to college, they knew they wanted to take the extra time they would have and use it to make a difference in someone else’s life.
When CJ learned about Canine Companions® through a co-worker who was a puppy raiser, and after they attended a graduation ceremony, they decided that puppy raising was exactly what they wanted to do. Vickie and CJ are currently raising their eighth puppy, Axel VI, and for the past two years Vickie has led the puppy training classes in the Jacksonville area. “Each puppy we have raised has touched our hearts, and although turning them in is the hardest thing we do, it also brings us the greatest reward when they go on to fulfill their purpose.”
They are active ambassadors of our mission and often speak to members of various civic, fraternal and veterans’ groups and college students. Because of his community involvement, and his heart for advocating for persons with disabilities, CJ was recognized as a 2017 Jefferson Awards Foundation Champions winner and was honored to represent his employer, and Canine Companions, at the annual awards ceremony in Washington, DC.
In addition to puppy raising, CJ and Vickie are chapter officers for the First Coast Chapter. Because of their leadership and the positive changes they have made to their chapter, many other emerging and even established chapters, look to CJ and Vickie for guidance.
CJ retired after 24 years in the Navy and looks forward to the day he will “pass the leash” to a fellow veteran. He is very passionate about our work with veterans and works with various local government agencies advocating for our position to serve more veterans with service dogs.
They are also very active and understand the importance of fundraising. They have been involved in the planning for all of the DogFest events in Jacksonville and have made it a priority to make their chapter’s event one of the organization’s most successful. When the decision was made for their March 2020 event to be virtual, the event still set records and raised more than $90,000. “We personally know the difference an assistance dog can make in someone’s life and we want to help share that message.”