Success Stories

At Canines for Disabled Kids we are most pleased by the direct impact we have on one’s life. It is our goal to not only get to know each child in need of assistance, but to best understand what needs to be done to get them the help that they need. Because of this attention to detail, we have been happy to pair many types of dogs with many different children over the years. Here are some of their stories!

Erin & Roger

Before Roger came, it felt like there was a big, blank space. Now that he’s here, he can do things for me that I couldn’t do before. He helps me by shutting the lights on and off. He can fetch when I tell him to, then he’ll hold it. When I say “thank you” he gives it to me.

When he has his cape on and his gentle-leader, he knows its business. When we go to the Y, we say “leave it” so he won’t chase all the balls!

Roger goes everywhere with me because I need him. If he wasn’t there I wouldn’t do stuff. I lean on him to help me balance and he doesn’t mind. I can talk louder now because I had to practice my commands with him in training at the mall. Roger makes me feel glad because he’s my dog.

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Erica & Baker

Erica Way is a typical all American teenager, with a pretty bedroom full of stuffed animals, equestrian ribbons, and a framed picture of her and her boyfriend from last year’s sophomore dance. And there’s one other thing, her wheelchair.

“People used to stare at it” she says. “But now they stare at Baker.”

Baker is a fluffy muffin of love who greets you at the door of the Way home with all the enthusiasm of a Golden Retriever. Just when you think the kisses will never stop, he turns and trots over confidently to the love of his life. There he rests his handsome head on Erica’s knee and listens as she tells the story of how this one very special dog has brought so much joy to so many.

Erica’s mother learned of CDK the way that many do, on a public service announcement played by a local radio station. She thought of her animal loving daughter’s up-coming birthday, and could think of no better way to celebrate than a tour of the CDK facility. But during the visit, she couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps CDK might offer something else for her daughter. Like all who love a differently abled child, Erica’s parents had spent many hours pondering the hard questions. What will happen as Erica gets older? How do we balance her desire for an independent young adulthood with the risks? And how will we mange our fears of her being somewhere all alone?

Erica herself was not so sure about CDK. Not that she didn’t love dogs, but her mind had been set on a different kind of animal–she was already planning for the day she could move to Florida to study marine biology. But she went forward with the application process and finally the day of her interview came. The trainers brought out dog after dog to meet her and all were wonderful, loving souls — some with so much love that they nearly knocked her petite frame over. Exhausted, Erica and her mother were ready to head home when the trainer said “If you have time … there is just one more … one more, kind of special dog I’d like you to meet.”

And out came Baker. Still a puppy at heart, but so gentle and calm that he immediately seemed to have been born by her side. Erica was both smitten and surprised at the intensity of her feelings since she didn’t even really think she WANTED a dog. Then the days and weeks of waiting began. Of course, Erica didn’t know if Baker would make it or not, or if Baker would be matched to someone else. But finally, the miraculous phone call came and after all that it had happened. Baker and Erica would begin training for a life together.

All of that was only two years ago, yet in some ways it seems to Erica and her mother to be just about forever. Baker is so a part of their family that it is hard to remember a time that he didn’t board the school bus with her every day. His picture even appears in her yearbook, alphabetized like all the other students! Baker loves all the people in Erica’s life – her handsome boyfriend, her loving parents, her two devoted brothers – and they all love him. But there is only one true love for Baker and that is Erica.

What does Baker do? Well, in addition to all the practical tasks Baker was trained for (pulling open a door, turning off the bedroom lights at night and most especially, picking up the many dropped items Erica manages to lose her grip on throughout the day) he enhances her independence, just by being at her side. Teachers no longer feel they need to subject Erica to the “buddy system” if she leaves the classroom on an errand. Her parents allow her the freedom to run errands on her own at the local neighborhood shopping plaza, secure in the fact that Erica and Baker are capable of watching out for each other. In a word: Baker is THERE. Always by her side, whether it’s sleeping in her bed at night, riding the bus to school in the morning and snoozing below her desk all day, visiting her friends with her after school, or going to the mall. When she goes zooming down her quiet neighborhood streets, her mom worries just a tiny bit less about her tipping over into a pothole or taking it too fast in front of a moving car. When she is home in the evening she is never, ever alone because there is always a furry face beside her. Sure, he would no more menace a stranger then sprout wings and fly, but just having him next to her gives her family peace of mind.

Erica’s plans for her future still include studying marine biology in Florida, but honestly, adds her mom, “who knows where she will end up.” There is only one thing that is certain. Wherever it is that Erica goes, she will have a devoted — and very fuzzy — face by her side.

By Mia Maccolin

Updates:
Erica graduated High School in June of 2009, with Baker proudly at her side. They begin college in the fall and are ready for the new adventures that they will meet together.

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Justin & Pivy

Pivy is sheer perfection, an absolute joy to all of us. She is an amazing and beautiful dog that has helped ease the discomfort of Justin’s autism with hope, laughter, and love. Pivy has made her way to us because of all of your love and training. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You have changed the world through your acts of kindness.

I have written a few vignettes that I hope will give you a glimpse of how Pivy, in such a short time, has helped change our lives:

A Glimpse of Heaven

I recall when Justin was a baby, hearing his laughter. I also remember reading that when you hear a child laugh they say you get a glimpse of heaven. Little did I know then that the sounds of laughter that I heard from my beautiful baby boy would slowly turn into tears, frustration, and silence. Justin is now 10, and even though I remember those emotions I felt when I first realized that Justin had autism, I now know no other way. Justin and his autism are one, but, in my saddest days I still wish that Justin were free from the challenges of this unthinkable disability. That he could be free to have the experiences that typical children do. That he could play catch with his dad or that he could sing.

One Sunday morning, loud and joyous giggles emerge from the living room. Pivy races back and forth with her boundless energy. Her playful movements grab Justin’s attention from his inner thoughts to a place of infectious laughter. My husband Mike, daughter Faith, and I hear the giggles from the other room and we too laugh. Imagining Justin’s face and hearing the interactions between Justin and Pivy delight us all I stop and think… Wow. I am blessed…. I got a glimpse of heaven today!

Predictability

If I were to teach a class about Autism I would call it predictability 101. Routine, structure, sameness, habits. They all provide a kind of comfort that is not just a need of Justin’s, but a necessity, a clear way for him to navigate through a very confusing world. The anxiety can be at its worst when we leave our home environment and venture out into the unknown.

The Mall…

We walk carefully through the mall; Justin automatically extends his hand out to take Pivy’s leash. He twirls around to place her on his left side. He is comforted and grounded by her presence. She is stability for him, his unspoken cue. He makes his way through overwhelming sights, sounds and smells. We stop in a jagged line. Justin says “pretzel” and all of a sudden, a grandparent, mother, a child, or even a “dog lover” will stop and say hello. All eyes are on Pivy. I think to myself, “they don’t notice Justin’s awkward gait or silly sounds. All they see is Piv – regal and obedient.” I am comforted by these thoughts, remembering back to the days of our most embarrassing community excursions.

Then all of a sudden a child says:

“Can I pet your dog?”

‘‘Oh, this is not my dog,” I reply.

“This is Justin, he is my son and this is HIS dog. You can ask him…”

A little voice quietly says, “Justin, can I pet your dog?”

Justin struggles to look at this new person speaking to him. His eye gaze fleeting, it takes him a few seconds but he responds “Yes.”

The child may ask, “What’s your dog’s name? What kind of dog is she?”

These are wonderful questions, and the best thing of all is that they are PREDICTABLE!! Oh, how Justin’s loves predictability! He gets his pretzel and we make our way back through the mall while saying hello to new friends along the way.

Inspiration

How could I try to help Justin’s classmates better understand him, to not be afraid of him and to be his friend? It was having Pivy with me that helped the kids feel comfortable and connected with Justin through Pivy. I am inspired by this dog and what she can do to help Justin!!

There I stand in a classroom filled with 3rd grade students. They see Pivy and me and excitement fills the air. I am thrilled to answer their numerous questions. It gives me a chance to talk with them about Justin and his autism. What makes Justin different than them, but most importantly what makes them alike. Pivy is perfect. She helps me show them that Justin likes to do a lot of the same things they do, but he just needs some extra help. They relate to my stories about the how difficult and sometimes scary it is going to the doctors. And that Justin has to go a lot. That at times, Justin would love to run up and down the isles of the grocery store, but he cannot. Pivy helps Justin to stay calm when he is at the doctors and not run when he is in the grocery store. The kids can totally understand these kinds of examples.

I see that they are drawn to Justin and Pivy. I talk with them about Justin’s communication and that he wants to play with them, but can’t always say the words. That Justin loves “hi fives” and this is his favorite way to say hello to his friends. Pivy shows the students how to do a “high five.” My hope is that when they see Justin in the hallway, they will say hello too. In weeks to come, the teacher reports that the kids are saying Hi to Justin in the hallways.

Justin’s class was assigned a community service project, and they choose Canines for Disabled Kids. They raised $300.00 and were a true inspiration to their school, and me!!

Written by: Allison Daigle

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Katie & Cabot

Cabot was welcomed into our family in May 2006.  He has become a much-loved member of our family, as he is so easy to love.  He is such a big dog but he has such a big heart to match his size.  He wakes Katie up each morning by rubbing his nose into her face.  Katie used to have a hard time getting out of bed each morning.  It was a nightmare to get her ready for school on time.  Since Cabot has arrived she eagerly gets up to feed him each day.  She loves to toss his ball or teddy bear around for him to chase before she goes to school.  Cabot is there to greet her when she gets home with his tail wagging from all of his excitement.  He helps Katie when she drops things on the floor and is always close by for a hug or quick pat on the head.  She loves to brush him and take him for walks.  She has gotten very good at being in command when walking.  The exercise is great for her lungs and for her balance.  Whenever Katie needs a medical procedure, Cabot is right there by her side.  When it is Katie’s bedtime, Cabot goes right into his bed and goes to sleep too.  We can’t imagine life without Cabot.  He has stolen our hearts right from the start.

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Kim & Bruin

Bruin, a Service Dog for the Classroom or Therapy, has been at our program, UMASS Transitions IRTP (Intensive Residential Treatment Program) for over a year. Our program currently services 15 adolescents who require long-term mental health treatment in a locked, secure setting.

Bruin enables kids to feel less lonely and depressed by being a warm body that they can hug. Most of our kids have been exposed to adults who have violated their trust and their boundaries. As a result, these kids have a very difficult time trusting others. Bruin allows kids to break down their walls, feel safe, and benefit from endless amounts of love and doggie kisses. Our teens often talk to Bruin about things that might be difficult to share with an adult and he is an outlet for the release of their difficult feelings.

Bruin is great because he does not judge or criticize, and is non-threatening. Kids take part in his care, which contributes to their learning how to be a caring and responsible person. I cannot recommend enough how valuable a Service Dog for Classroom/Therapy is to us and our program. Hopefully, the use of Service Dogs will become more prominent in classrooms and therapeutic settings to facilitate the growth of the children we work with each day.

Sincerely,

Kimberly Kopp
Rehabilitation Assistant
UMASS Transitions

BRUIN
By Kristen 

This morning I was crying

I could taste the salty tears

It seemed like nothing could make it better

Ease my troubles or my fears

When down the hall I heard

The sound of running paws

I opened the door to see my friend

His name is Bruin the therapy dog

He seemed to sense my sadness

To know I felt upset

Followed me into my room

And up upon my bed

He gave me sloppy kisses

And took my tears away

He lay down with his head on my lap

And decided he would stay

His big brown eyes looked up at me

Soft fur beneath my hand

And somehow when no one else possibly could

I knew Bruin could understand

He always keeps my secrets

And he never tells a soul

He’s there for a hug and loves to play

When I feel all alone

He’s the best friend in the world

Always happy, always sweet

It’s a comfort to have him near me

Almost everyday of the week

I love the way he makes me feel

He lets me know I’m loved

He doesn’t care about my past

Or the bad things I’ve done

He looks at me how I am today

And love me just the way I am

When I fall I know I can count on him to encourage me to stand

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Laura Beth Jacquin and Munroe

A year and a half ago I was just about to give up on training with my service dog, Munroe. After a whole week of living at National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS), in Princeton Massachusetts, I was seriously considering not graduating with the rest of my class at the end of the subsequent week. It wasn’t because I was tired of the training drills I had to learn everyday; and it wasn’t because I didn’t like my new golden retriever. What worried me was the amount of time and energy I would have to put into him in the years following. At only 15 years old, I was scared of the responsibility of caring for this enormous and furry baby. I didn’t think I could do it; I was about to turn in my leash and quit.

Well, was I ever wrong! I went home that first weekend with my 18-month-old puppy, ready to give up. But being home made me remember how excited I was to finally get my service dog and how I had been so proud to tell my friends and family that I had been chosen to train with a service dog. I have always been an ambitious individual and I’m definitely not one to give up and thank God I didn’t. I graduated with Munroe in the spring of 2003 and truthfully I have no idea what I would do without him. I know that I am very lucky to have a friend like Munroe. I am reminded of my luck every time Munroe picks up something that I have dropped, every time he flips my light switch off when I want to go to sleep, and every time that I am at the mall and people smile at me and talk with me. I owe that to Munroe. He is with me every day and every night – whenever I need him, he’s there; whether I am at school or in my own home. Munroe and I have a symbiotic relationship; he helps me everyday and in turn I share that love with him. I groom him and feed him and play with him too. He isn’t only a physical accompaniment, he acts as my stress reliever because who couldn’t fall in love with that adorable face!? But as I sit here and look at him, sprawled across the floor, I know that my favorite thing about Munroe the Service Dog is that he is my best friend.

Love, Laura Beth Jacquin

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Matthew Killion and Quincy

“My name is Matthew Killion and I am 8 ½ years old. I have a really nice Assistance Dog named Quincy. He is the best companion that a kid could wish for. I love my dog because he helps me with a lot of things that sometimes I can’t control. Sometimes I’m crying in a crowd and Quincy helps me a ton by licking and kissing me so I feel better. He helps me talk to people. Canines for Disabled Kids helped me a lot by getting me this very special dog.”

(These are Matthew’s own words about his beloved Assistance Dog, Quincy.)

Matt has Asperger’s Syndrome, a neurobiological disorder that makes it difficult for him to process the world, both on social and sensory levels. Some of the tasks that Quincy was specially trained for include providing assistance to Matt in calming himself when stressed, interacting in public, and task adherence. Canines for Disabled Kids (CDK) provided a scholarship to Matthew that resulted in Matt and his mom, Ann, graduating from “doggie college” (Matt’s definition of the intensive training required before taking a CDK dog home!) at NEADS with Quincy in April 2003.

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Ellie Mae

Planetree Pet Therapy Award

Most people think a tasty bone motivates me to do my very best each day. It is so typical that humans would think so simply of a dog; unfortunately we are so misunderstood. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ellie Mae, known as Miss Ellie to my many adoring fans. I am a purebred Shitzu. I know that is very impressive, but hold on to your seats…I am also a fully trained service dog – six months of intense training. How many dogs do you know that can turn on light switches with their noses? Huh, not many, I bet.

I am here to tell you why I am deserving of Planetree’s National Pet Therapy Award. I hear from the doggy grapevine that winning this award is a B. D. D (A Big Doggie Deal) – so here goes.

Each day I come to a very special hospital in Mount Kisco, New York called Northern Westchester Hospital. My owner works there, so how cool is it that she gets to bring her dog to work with her everyday? When I get there, my groupies are always ready to get down to my level and give me giant hugs, strokes and my personal favorite; lots of compliments about how adorable I am. My groupies are the employees of the hospital – they love me, and I love them. Then it’s off to work. These really terrific volunteers from our community, who want to participate in our dog therapy program, but don’t have dogs of their own, come to the hospital and pick me up from my owner’s office. Off we go to the nursing units and public waiting areas and we spend time visiting. When I am with patients, I do my best to be there for them. To let them pet me and hold me and just let me take care of them.

I have lots of stories to tell about the times I am with patients, but one special girl really made me feel like a very special dog. This little girl was sick on our pediatric unit. The nurses asked that I pay her a visit, and I sat on her bed for quite some time. Her mom said I made her daughter smile for the first time since she has been here. Each day, I went up to see her, I stayed with her for as long as I could. I could tell by the way she held me that my being there made her feel better; more calm, less scared. Another time, I was visiting a patient on our oncology unit. She lit right up when she saw me come in. I could tell she was very sick. The patient asked me to come back so she could sketch me. That was a new one. So, I would sit at the edge of her bed while she drew. Just call me Mona Mae!

Most of my day, I spend with kids. Its funny how happy we make each other. My tail wags all day and the kids have more smiles than I have ever seen in a hospital. So, if you would like to know what motivates me each day to do my very best – here is what goes through my doggie mind – seeing the smiles of the people I bring joy to every day is much more satisfying than any tasty bone you could throw my way!

Respectfully Submitted by,

Ellie Mae’s Northern Westchester Hospital Fan Club

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Sarah and Ballou

When Sarah Cushna entered the tenth grade, she began thinking about her future after high school. Like most sophomores she considered her future vocation, and the pros and cons of living at home versus away in a dorm. But Sarah had additional considerations, given that she would need to make these dreams come true from her wheelchair. Over the years, her facilitated service dog, Allie, had helped her make many dreams come true, but as she thought about the new physical barriers she would need to overcome, Sarah came to the bittersweet conclusion that she would need to retire her current dog, Allie, and train with a new helpmate.

Sarah has fond memories of her first “boot camp” at NEADS — many of which revolve around her training with Dan Oulette. Not long after Dan became a NEADS assistance dog trainer, it became apparent that his calling was the kids. With his silly, ice-breaking games and teasing, Dan made Sarah and her beloved first dog, Allie, a true team. A golden retriever, with a gregarious personality and a soft heart, Allie was perfect for this driven girl – a true match, with her own long, golden hair and spunky personality. They became smitten with each other. As with most facilitated dogs, Allie did not attend school, but waited patiently for Sarah’s return each afternoon. She saw Sarah through rocky family times and the inevitable transition from childhood to adolescence. As the years went by, Allie also changed — to an older, mellower girl, who sometimes preferred the quiet corner of the couch to another ride in the van. She bonded with Sarah’s mom during their time together, and in her golden years, this sweet-faced pup, became less of an assistance dog and more of a family pet.

Sarah and her mom had done a lot of thinking before they reapplied to NEADS for her second dog. One thing they realized was that Sarah no longer needed to be in a facilitated team. Although Allie was a wonderful friend, Sarah now needed more of a helpmate…

Sure enough, upon meeting Ballou, the first thing you realize is that this is a dog with a purpose in life! A dog that shuns the comfy spot on the rug for a job that involves a cape, a serious task, and a place next to a beloved person who just happens to be sitting in a chair with wheels. Because Ballou is not facilitated, he goes where Sarah goes. She is responsible for him, just as he is for her. For Ballou, that means full days of school and weekends of church, friends, and typical teen hangouts all summer. For Sarah, it means feeding, walks, grooming, and all the “ga-zillions” of other things that play into such a responsibility. Any explaining comes from Sarah — including polite education of her classmates not to pet without asking. Ballou might give a friendly greeting — who knows, even a little kiss — but then he is immediately back by Sarah’s side, letting the world know, this is his task in life.

And all of this might just come in handy for Sarah’s future… You see, after considering her own passions, she decided that dogs just had to be a part of her adult life. She considered vet school, but decided it was animals that she loved, not their diseases. Perhaps she would take up a primary career in another field and work with animals as a cherished hobby? Well, during her second training she hit on it! With her personal experience, her gift of communication (with both humans and dogs) and her natural training abilities, Sarah hopes to someday become an assistance dog trainer. As Sarah and her mom describe plans for the future with great excitement, you can only imagine the look of great pride that comes over old Allie’s face, as she sees what the future holds for the special young woman her cherished little girl has become.

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Shane and Mouse

“Hey you, would you like to meet my new dog?”

I looked over at Shane. Did he just say that??? I couldn’t believe my ears and my heart skipped a beat. It was the first day of what we had coined “Mouse Training.”

Shane and I, along with Shane’s new service dog, Mouse, were at a CVS in a Worcester mall. Thankfully the clerk immediately jumped into her role and said, “Why yes, I would.” Shane very confidently went on to introduce his new dog. I was filled with joy, mixed with relief, and whole lot of hope. Had we done it again? Had our instincts guided us down the right path, again? I could not wait to call Ray and share this small triumph. Day 1 of “Mouse Training” and already things looked promising.

At three years of age Shane was diagnosed with Autism.  Autism is a neurological disability that typically involves delays and impairment in social skills, language, and behavior. Receiving this diagnosis was devastating, to say the least.  The world of autism was new to us and very frightening, we had a lot to learn.

So our journey began…

For the last 10 years our family has been very fortunate to work with many, wonderful therapists, teachers, doctors, and consultants. We’ve joined many support groups, gone to many trainings, workshops, and conferences to learn and grow in our knowledge of autism. This was now our world.

Many times along the way we’ve been able to find answers through the professionals we consult, latest research, books, along with other friends and parents.  However, Ray and I often find it is our gut feeling, our intuitions, that usually lead the way. Admittedly, while most of the time it’s a hit, sometimes it’s a miss. Often programs, therapies, and potential opportunities just feel right, just like this day with Shane’s simple exchange with the CVS clerk.  I wondered and hoped if we had been lucky enough to be right again.

It was a year ago that I learned of a new line of service dogs for children with autism. These dogs are often referred to as “Social dogs” or “Therapy dogs.” Ray and I watched documentaries and began to read about the successes families with a child on the autism spectrum were having with a canine companion. A social dog would help with Shane’s therapeutic goals of increased socialization, task adherence, and sensory regulation. Out in public, with Mouse by his side, Shane would be able to work on his social skills by drawing people in to converse with him about, what else, his dog!

Shane has a love for animals like no other. He is happiest at a zoo or a pet store where he’s seen with a smile from ear to ear. Elephants have always been his favorite, but animals in general have an interesting effect on him.  We see a calmness that comes over him while watching animals of all kinds. We were intrigued; we felt given Shane’s social challenges and love for animals this was an opportunity we should consider.

In January of 2005, Ray and I took Shane to NEADS (National Education and Assistance Dog Association) in Princeton, MA for an interview. The interview process was very thorough with questions regarding Shane’s various activities, his moods, his anxieties, and his behavioral issues. Most of all they wanted to learn how Shane’s autism affects his daily living so they could then begin the matching process for the right dog and train her according to Shane’s individual needs.

It soon became obvious to Ray and I that not only were they trying to plan for a match for Shane, but with us as a family to take on such a unique dog.  This needed to work both ways. We were thrilled when Shane was accepted to the program, then the waiting began. We waited an entire year and then finally, the week before Christmas 2005 we received the long awaited call … Christy, the trainer at NEADS, said they had a match for Shane and that she was an adorable Chocolate Lab named “Mouse”.  Needless to say we were ecstatic!

On January 9, 2006 we started our training. With Christy, Mouse had already been through intensive training at NEADS, now Shane and I needed to learn how to work with her. Initially, I trained for two days then Shane joined me for another four. We stayed at the NEADS campus house and trained each day. We learned so much and were so fortunate to work not only with Christy, but Dan as well, NEADS’ Autism Specialist. Christy, Dan, and myself provided the perfect team to teach Shane all he needed to know about his new dog. We worked hard and on January 16 our hard work had paid off. Shane, Mouse, and I passed our certification and brought Mouse home. We had one happy boy, and an equally happy dog!

We also learned that it would be sometime before Shane could manage Mouse himself and this has become a goal for us.  Hopefully someday he can be independent with her care. We have found Mouse provides more than comfort and companionship for Shane at home.  She also accompanies us out in public, an important part of their bonding and continued training together.

Our family is so thankful for this incredible opportunity; the people at NEADS are truly wonderful and have been there every step of the way. We are all absolutely crazy about Mouse, she is amazing! She is so lovable and friendly, and feels like a “LeBlanc” already! Each day we see Mouse and Shane connect more and more, he loves to play chase with her, (“Mouuuuse, come get me!”), feed her, brush her, and walk her. I love to hear his giggles as Mouse showers him (literally) with kisses when he gets home from school.

Through Mouse, Shane is learning many valuable lessons, he’s learning to take care of her and that she needs him as much as he needs her.  He is also learning that people are very interested and curious about his dog, and that it is he, who holds the answers as well as the ability to share them. Ray and I enjoy watching them together, we see a boy who now walks a bit taller and shows an air of confidence we hadn’t seen before. Very quickly they are becoming pals. Shane is very proud of her and loves to introduce her. Usually he introduces her by her name but every once in a while we’ll hear him say, “Would you like to meet my new friend, Mouse?”  For this we are most thankful!

One last request, when you see Shane with Mouse, ask him about his new friend!

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Tracy & Betsy

The tiny town of Mattawa sits in the sun drenched rolling hills and apple orchards of eastern Washington State. On a glorious, brisk autumn day its school yards are filled with joyous shouts, many in Spanish – the language of the hardworking migrant labor force that works in those orchards.  In a small trailer near the back of the school complex, a very special class of 13 children with mental and physical disabilities is a flurry of activity…catching bubbles from the teacher, playing with a large puzzle on the floor, eating snacks; but the most coveted activity of all, and the one each child participates in regularly, is a hug and a snuggle with service dog for the classroom, Betsy.

Tracy Arlt was both a dedicated special needs teacher and a devoted animal lover when she met a service dog in training one fateful day, two years ago.  With the backing of a supportive school administration and every single family in her class, she set out to learn more about the relatively new field of “service dogs for the classroom.”  Her internet research led her to CDK and she traveled to the NEADS campus a year ago to meet Betsy.  She fell in love!  After a year and two busy classrooms, she says that Betsy has met every single goal she had before she started the program – and the team has come up with a few more.

Betsy’s first role is to promote focus.  She finds herself in all kinds of lessons from academic to social skills.  For example, many of Tracy’s children can be less then enthusiastic about reading and reluctant to participate in a circle or one on one with a teacher; but get Betsy in a corner and they are glad for the opportunity for one on one with their favorite snuggle muffin — so much so, that they will pull out a book and read it to her just to prolong the time!  Taking turns can be another difficult task for those with limited attention or difficulties with impulse control.  Betsy has neither and she will sit and play buzzer games forever – as long as she can get her turn!

Betsy’s second role is to give confidence.  Tracy tells of one child who spent the first week of school curled in a ball under a classroom table, afraid to come out to even meet her classmates and teachers.  But sometimes a furry face can be less intimidating then a human one, and with Betsy’s help she now has the courage to face the class.  Another child was shy on the playground, but his job is now to hold Betsy’s leash.  He has even found that she will follow his quiet, whispered commands.  A grin the size of the Columbia River spread over his face when he showed me “sit.”  Confidence and focus can be a powerful combination outside the academic classroom, and sometimes Betsy visits other therapists on campus with Tracy’s kids.  Her favorite is the agility tunnel in physical therapy for a super game of “catch me!”

And Betsy’s third role is to create calm.  Thirteen special needs children are a huge challenge and it seems like nearly all the time, someone is having a bad day.  Sometimes they just need a Betsy kiss and sometimes some more prolonged therapy is in order.  Of course, a tantrum on the floor pretty much precludes any “Betsy therapy” and children learn quickly to get what they want, they need to exercise some self control.  Children with physical disabilities have worked hard to control their movements and learn how to pet Betsy’s soft fur or even comb out some of those pesky mats that goldens can be prone to!

Betsy has been so successful that Tracy has been twice invited to present her experiences to a conference of her peers.  She downplays the whole experience saying that it is easy to speak on something so positive and so inviting.  Through a series of video taped interactions with Betsy, Tracy presents a powerful story of how much a loving, well trained dog can change the lives of those with challenges.

The end of the school day has come, the children have climbed on big yellow school buses, and the classroom has finally fallen silent.  Betsy, exhausted, lies on the cool floor thumping her tail when the teachers walk by doing their last minute chores.  She is no doubt anticipating her van ride home and an evening spent “cape free” romping with her best buddy, Router, a Boston terrier.  In addition to Tracy’s husband, four children, and Router, Betsy shares the Arlt home with five horses, four cats, three chickens, and a parakeet (did you think I was kidding when I said Tracy was an animal lover?)  But best of all, there is always tomorrow morning when she will wait anxiously at the door while Tracy tells her to “get dressed” so that she can visit her special kids all over again!

By: Mia Maccollin

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Emily and Snickers

I remember when I found out about hearing dogs. I thought it was a pretty cool thing to have and I begged my mom to get me one so I could wake myself up and try to hear things without her help. I also wanted a dog because my life was boring and lonely besides school and dance. There are not a lot of kids around my age that I can hang out with and hearing kids are so hard to understand. I was hoping that a dog would help keep me company. I imagined that it was going to make things better and I would not be so lonely. After we applied for the dog a long time seemed to pass. I was worried if I was even going to get this dog.

Well I have waited and waited for a long time. It was about two years. I even thought that I was not going to get a dog. I used to get upset and cry a lot because it felt like it would never come. I got news in June 2006. One day I came home from school and my mom told me the N.E.A.D.S program was ready to work with me. I was extremely excited. I was so happy I could not stop smiling. N.E.A.D.S. told my mother and me that we should be prepared to stay there two weeks.

When it was time to leave the end of July we got ready for our one and a half hour drive. We said good bye to the family. My little sister was very sad. The ride was long and full of excitement. The first day of the training they described what was going to happen for the training and all other stuff like introducing each other, where we were going to stay, and then discussed what was going to happen for each day. All that talking was making me crazy. All I wanted to do was meet my dog.

When I first met Snickers for the training I was happy to see her but we had to stand like super man and not make any eye contact. We worked hard in the hot sun. I couldn’t wait to pat her and tell her I love her. Finally the day came that she could come back to the house we were staying at. That first night with her was fun but I had a hard time sleeping. Snickers felt anxious being in a new place and I felt home sick. I missed my family and my own bed at home. Eventually, I found a comfy spot and I kept peering over the bed to make sure that this wasn’t a dream. Snickers was cuddled up on her bed sound asleep.

When I brought Snickers home, I was happy to be getting home but still I was nervous because I didn’t know how people were going to react. I didn’t know how easy or hard it was going to be. The easy part was that I knew how to give commands and make her obey me. The hard part was that I had to do it in front of people which made me nervous. But I enjoyed getting back home and we celebrated her arrival.

I think it has been both times of easy and hard things but mostly it is pretty good. I have discovered more people want to be around me when I am with her. It’s plenty of fun to play with her. She always has a way to wake me up that makes me smile. She’s a smart dog that’s for sure. She can even tell when I’m sad and she seems to find a way to make me feel better. In the morning I walk her with my dad and sometimes I am crabby because it is too early or too cold.

I like to take walks at night with her and my older sister because it’s a way we can talk without any interruptions. Sometimes when I get home from school or at night I give people a hard time about walking her and I need reminders to feed her. It makes me mad when they get mad at me even if they are sort of right. It makes me mad when instead of reminding me they just take over but I know sometimes I am not being fair to Snickers to make her wait for me or my attention. It is a lot of work.

Some other things are hard like I can’t seem to find time to do sound training with her as much as I should. My parents get upset when I don’t tend to her needs. Sometimes I wish I could change the time or give up my things to be with Snickers but I can’t. Some days it feels very hard. I think about how hard it is to be in school, work on my goals for acting, singing, and dancing and I just want to give up. I will feel for a moment like I wish I did not have Snickers. But things would be different without her. Now she is attached to a place in my heart that will not ever let her go never ever, ever.

I would advise kids who are younger than me that want a hearing dog to wait to get a little older and be able to take all that responsibility. Because once you get the hearing dog it becomes a big part of you. So you might want to wait. I would recommend for kids at least 12 or older to think very carefully about the responsibility and commitment before getting a hearing dog. You also need to be sure you have parents who will help you and understand who hard it is to be so young and have such a big responsibility.

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Zach and Riley

My name is Zack. I am an eleven year old boy with Cerebral Palsy. I am nonverbal although I can say some words in my own way. I use a wheelchair, oxygen, and am fed via a J-tube. I wanted a dog more than anything. My Mom finally said I could get a service dog. I waited for four years until NEADS had the right dog for me. It was worth the wait because they found the perfect dog for me. My dog Riley was raised in a prison pup program, my favorite show is “Cell Dogs”. Riley and I will both do just about anything for food, we like to eat. We also like to cuddle and watch Animal Planet on TV. Riley picks up things that are dropped, turns on lights, pushes the elevator call button, and opens automatic doors for me. He even understands when I give him the “nudge” command and when I call his name. That’s better then most people. He comes to check on me to make sure I am okay every time I cough. He gives me lots of kisses and shares his toys with me. Since I can’t take the toys from him he sometimes drops them in my mouth when I am laying down, as if I am another dog. Mom thinks that is gross, but I think it’s cool. About a month after we graduated I had to have spinal surgery. I was in and out of the hospital most of the summer. Riley and I missed each other while we were apart. On weekends Mom would bring Riley in to stay with me. He wanted to snuggle in bed with me, but that was against the rules. Some of the other kids in the hospital came to visit Riley and wanted to know why their rooms didn’t come with a dog. Since I got home from the hospital Riley and I have gone many places together. One of our favorite places to go is the movies. Our favorite movies are Spiderman 2 and Garfield. We also like to go to Petco. Every time we go there we try to convince Mom we need to bring home one of the cats that are visiting from the local cat shelter, but she always says no. We have a garden in the “Fens” and whenever we go there Riley likes to drink from the hose.

Riley is my best friend. Everyone thinks he is a cool dog and wishes they had one just like him. I am much happier and much more talkative since Riley has come into my life.

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Evan and Willie

When my son was 14 1/2 we received a call from NEADS telling us a dog had been found that would be perfect for Evan. Evan suffers from regressive autism and at the time that he regressed (age 2 1/2) he developed a dog phobia. Indeed, at our first meeting with NEADS Evan tried to climb into a closet for fear a dog would enter the room. The phobia worsened over time and by the time he was larger than I was, I knew we had to deal with it and hoped that NEADS was the answer. NEADS was the answer, I am happy to say! Although there were not too many people that first day sitting around the intake interview table who thought this had a prayer of working out well, one trainer thought otherwise and proceeded to prove to the rest of us that this child was capable of overcoming his fears, and wanted to overcome them.

By the end of two hours, Dan had Evan walking his black lab around the conference table on a leash, followed by him lying down next to the dog on the carpet, petting him. This would work; it would take just the right dog.

So the gamble was, was Willie that dog? Skipping past training, which went well, to home, within a month Evan, was no longer over reactive to Willies movements towards him. Evan is in charge of feeding Willie, plays with him outside and inside, and is always in charge of the lead in public. Evan has taken to the role in public beautifully and keeps Willie in line, in fact, Willie behaves beautifully when walking with Evan, but if one of the other family members takes him for a walk he tends to try to get away with more.
Evan has proven to be a tough taskmaster!

Willie has been with us for 1.5 years now. Not only does Evan now feel empowered around dogs (yes, by now it has generalized to other dogs as well), he gained quite a bit of self-confidence overall. We can go to friends’ homes now and not have to deal with Evan closing himself into their bathroom to escape their animals. THIS is a huge social benefit! He really looks out for Willie too. If Willie is outside in the back yard, it’s Evan who is keenly aware of where he is and gets a little worried if he disappears from sight. He will go out and call Willie with a loud voice which we had trouble getting him to use (assert himself) prior to this. He has built a bit of vocabulary around the experiences with Willie which seems very natural. Willie makes him (and us) laugh often which is nice in a family where laughter seemed lost for several years.

The only part that bothers him still is Willie’s shedding. For this reason he does not like Willie to come into his bedroom and we respect that. He complains about Willies hair all over and asks to get another dog that won’t shed. So, that’s progress. It will be perfect as soon as we find a way to glue Willies fur on!

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Aimee and Kitsy

Aimee and KitsyWe always knew that having a pet would provide the much-needed companionship that was missing in Aimee’s life. What we didn’t realize was just how profoundly all of our lives would change by having Kitsy join our family. Kitsy is the best friend anyone could ever have. Aimee is truly happy all the time with Kitsy by her side. Aimee has become more confident, social and interactive. We all spend lots of time playing and laughing together. Aimee is thrilled to take Kitsy into our community and tell everyone about her special friend. In addition to helping Aimee with her social skills, Kitsy provides stability and balance to Aimee when she walks in crowds. Our trips to the mall are so much more enjoyable with Kitsy at Aimee’s side. She no longer gets “bumped” and loses her balance. Kitsy makes sure she walks in a straight line and keeps her out of trouble. Kitsy has joined us for several family vacations and even flew to Hilton Head, South Carolina this past April. She was a model service dog and had all the flight staff swooning over her! At home when she’s “off duty” she loves playing ball in the yard with Aimee and loves her long walks with me. She also has several dog friends in the neighborhood. Kitsy visits Aimee at school regularly and has many admirers wherever she goes. When Aimee gets off the bus in the afternoon, Kitsy follows her upstairs to bed. They are a great team!

Our lives have been blessed with the addition of Kitsy to our family. Aimee works so hard at so many things. Her life is full of challenges and difficulties. The friendship and love provided by Kitsy has made an incredible difference in our lives. We will be forever grateful to the organizations that helped bring Kitsy to us.

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Madison

Madison was born on Janurary 10, 1997 and donated to NEADS by her breeder. She was a lovable bundle! From the beginning, Madison had a special affinity for babies and young children. By the time she was a year of age, she had been certified as a Therapy dog with the group Pets to People.

After Madison’s advanced training at NEADS, sponsored by Canines for Disabled Kids (CDK), she was placed with a young boy with Duchenne’s muscular dysrophy and spent many wonderful years helping him transition to adolescence. When he started middle school it was time for her to move on to a new career.

Madison re trained as a Service Dog for Therapy at age 5, and sinced then she has worked in the Neurofibromatosis Clinic at Mass General Hospital. On clinic days she dresses up in cape and special leader and heads off to work. What does she do? Well . . . the full answer could fill a book but the short answer is that she makes people happy. Here is a typical day in her life:

  • Made everyone on the commuter rail put down their reading material and smile when she got on.
  • Stopped to say hello to several staff members in the hall on her way to clinic.
  • Greeted those waiting for their appointments in the waiting room (why ARE doctors always running late?!?!?)
  • Helped a scared little boy get up the courage to come in for his appointment.
  • Greeted a young family, anxious about the diagnosis they were going to hear.
  • Provided a welcome diversion for a 2 year old whose mother couldn’t get a baby sitter for her appointment.
  • Walked around with 5 and 7 year old sisters who got bored with their parents endless questions of the doctor.
  • Stopped on her way out to greet an 18 month old in her stroller and give kisses to her sad mother who just learned she needed a prolonged hospitalization for weight gain.

Every day Madison learns new ways to help. For example, one of her patients is a ten year old who is very very afraid of MRI’s. The problem is that like many neurofibromatosis patients, he has a great big tumor, so he often needs one. To keep him from wiggling he gets a breathing tube and general anesthesia which makes him feel sick and sleepy, not to mention keeping his poor parents out of work for a day. Enter Madison, whom he adores. Last time he was in clinic he made a bargain… if he could try to stay super still for the 90 minutes that he had to be in the machine, Madison could be there too. When his appointment day came for the MRI, he was SO happy to see Madison that he forgot to be scared. Madison went right in the exam room and jumped on the MRI gurney so that he could see there was nothing to be at all scared of. With his feet in the machine, as it started pounding he could stroke her soft fur, or just feel her warm body close to him. When it was done he was so proud of himself that he wanted to tell the world of his accomplishment! And the next day the radiologists called to say this was the least wiggly MRI scan they had ever seen!

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Factor

Factor is a service dog for therapy and I am an able bodied Occupational Therapist. Sometimes, this is confusing to people when we are out in public. They think that Factor is in training to go work with someone else. He has been trained as a service dog for therapy and he goes to work with me everyday. I work at Family Achievement Center in Woodbury, MN with children who have a variety of developmental delays, in an outpatient clinic that offers occupational, physical, and speech therapy.

Factor received his service dog training at NEADS/Canines for Disabled Kids in Princeton, MA. Factor knows all his basic obedience commands along with service dog commands – to turn on and off lights, open doors, push buttons, fetch large and small objects, along with a few tricks. Factor can push a large therapy ball back to a client that has tossed it to me, he knows how to crawl, he can ‘take a nap’ and ‘wake up’ upon command, he can ‘speak,’ and if we are putting together a puzzle, he can carry an envelope holding a piece to a child and then come back to me for more pieces. Factor is a comfort to the sad, nervous, or scared child. Factor is a motivator to the children who come to therapy multiple days a week. Factor shares his unconditional love with all, and has many best friends in one day.

Being that Factor is a service dog, he is strongly bonded to me and likes to be with me at all times. He is excited to go to work in the morning and to go home at the end of the day to play with his toys. Factor has brought so much joy into all the lives that he encounters each and everyday. I have been told on more than one occasion that he is a gift from above and I know each day, that is true by the looks in the children’s eyes. This gift would not have been possible without the support of donors to Canines for Disabled Kids and NEADS. Thank you.

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