Colm has a lot of strong opinions for a boy of 12! First of all he is the sole vegetarian in his family, a predisposition that his parents say goes back to infancy. And then there is his impeccable good taste, from fine clothes to the $1,000 Brookstone bed he spied in the Jensen Beach mall. He’s pretty clear on his future too, probably one in the medical field. As his dad points out, his poise and gift with words would do him well there.
So unfortunately would his personal experience. With failing kidneys, severe allergies and a state of the art wheelchair, Colm has had all too much experience with the medical field for his short life.
Two years ago, Colm received a new lease on that life through one very special poodle named AshLee. Ironically, AshLee was named and donated to NEADS in honor of another very special child who adored poodles. AshLee spent her first year in the Framingham women’s prison where an inmate poured the attention, love and discipline into training her that would make her a successful assistance dog candidate. Every weekend she was taken out into the wider world by a dedicated volunteer family who made it their often time-consuming mission to be sure she was socialized to all the things not present in the prison environment. But like many poodles AshLee was perhaps a little TOO smart and a little TOO sensitive for her advanced training. At a year of age, she was assigned to a visiting trainer from South Africa and after four short weeks of intensive boot camp on the NEADS campus she was finally ready to take the plunge.
At first glace, placing a highly intelligent poodle with anyone but an experienced—and adult—handler might have seemed foolhardy. But then again you’ve never met Colm! That poise and gift with words was exactly what it took to form the respectful, loving bond so essential between an assistance dog and a human partner. From the beginning, AshLee was Colm’s soulmate and best friend, and that has not changed as the years have passed. Colm lists the ways that AshLee touches his life, from walking by his side in the mall to watching his basketball games to picking up things that he drops and fetching his pencils from the other room. Yes, every venture into public with a gorgeous redhead at your side means a little extra time to explain “please do not pet” but Colm’s mom takes this as just one more opportunity to advocate awareness. AshLee is truly a special dog and she adores and is adored by everyone in the family. But at the end of the day, she knows there is only one place for her, and that is next to her forever best friend Colm.
By Mia Maccolin