ECAD's staff and volunteers are some of the most giving, caring people I've ever met. As both a board member and recipient of their services, I am especially aware of their hard work and dedication. The staff works together, not only to train the service dogs and the trainer/students, but also to help raise funds for the organization.
I have recieved two service dogs from ECAD. My first dog, Elli, worked from the day I brought her home in March, 2000, right up until a week before she died in September, 2011. She was literally a lifesaver, waking me when my father's ventilator alarm went off. At the time of my interview, I thought that would be the only thing I needed a service dog for. Was I wrong!! With Elli, my life became so much easier! She would pull my wheelchair for miles, help me with the grocery shopping, and perform a myriad of tasks that I would find difficult without her.
In March, 2013, my second service dog, McGrew, came home with me. With his help, I am able to work part time, even though I suffered another spinal cord injury. He pulls me to work and home every day, picks up everything I drop (and I drop a LOT of items) and loves to get things off the shelves in the supermarket for me. McGrew has become a special part of our community because of his loving personality and calmness. When our area was devastated by a tropical storm 6 months ago, ours was one of the few businesses that remained open. Lines were long and people were devastated by the loss of their homes. McGrew, like Elli before him, seemed to know who needed him most. He accepted lots of hugs during those trying times. Our "don't pet" policy went out the window with these dire circumstances, and he spent hours calming people. After each encounter, McGrew would climb onto my lap as if to say " I love you the most." Who but the most caring individuals like those at ECAD could raise and train dogs of this caliber.
It was almost 10 years ago that ECAD paired me with Elli, my service dog. At the time I thought the only thing I would need a dog for would be to wake me up when my father's ventilator alarm went off. Because I have both Muscular Dystrophy and a spinal cord injury, I use a wheelchair or crutches to get around. At the time I applied for a dog, I felt I was totally independent - I just couldn't walk. Now I'm lost without Elli's help. Before I had Elli, I would have to go to the supermarket 3 or 4 times a week, because I couldn't many items while pushing the wheelchair. Elli was able to pull me through the supermarket while I piled my lap high with the groceries for the whole week! When we were finished, Elli would pull me to the car while carrying a bag of groceries in her mouth. She would also get things off the lower shelves for me. Her only drawback was that she absolutely refused to pick up store brand marshmallows, even though she never tasted one in her life - so we had to buy name brand. Elli came to Mass with me every weekend, and would help pass the collection plate. She would carry cold cuts in her mouth without ever trying to taste them. She was so well trained it was amazing! Two of ECAD's students spent 2 days teaching Elli to respond to my father's ventilator alarm. Because I had her, he was able to get his wish of dying at home surrounded by his family and friends. She saved his life twice! Elli also carried my briefcase into court when I was working. Many of us joke that she was better at plea bargaining than I was, and my clients should hire her and forget about me. Justices have told me that the courtroom was much more relaxed when Elli was there. When I suffered another injury about 2 1/2 years ago, Elli was by my side. She had to work harder at age 11 than she did when she was young. The harder she worked, the harder her tail wagged. Elli just retired. When I'm ready to get another service dog, I'll make sure to go to ECAD! I also became a volunteer for ECAD and have sat on the board of directors for several years. I wanted to do more, so I became a home handler. First, I had to go through training, of course, because it's very easy to spoil these lovable dogs. A home handler takes a puppy or young dog from Thursday evening through Monday morning. We keep practicing the commands with these pups, help socialize them, and work on the commands they need the most help with. Monday mornings, they're back at school where their student trainers teach them whatever they need to learn and continue their socialization. We get to watch them grow from chewing puppies to adolescent service dogs. Though we try hard not to, we bond with the dogs and miss them when they go out on a team. We're like proud parents when we receive updates on the dogs we've handled, and watching them go off into the world with their new handler is akin to watching your child graduate school and go off into the world. It's bittersweet, but such a rewarding sight.