WINCHESTER — Every year, Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities dogs are paired with clients in need of a constant companion — a specially trained dog aware of their particular needs. This week, four people completed their intensive training with their own special dog at ECAD’s facility, where dogs are fostered, trained and sent off to a new life with their person.

The most recent graduation celebration was held Dec. 18. ECAD‘s directors, Lu and Dale Picard, oversaw the ceremony, where families, friends, staff members and the dogs gathered to congratulate the graduates.

Dale Picard thanked all for coming, and said the company was in great shape. “Five years ago we had to lay off half our employees, and I”m happy to say we’ve rebuilt ECAD since then, and we’ve rehired all of them,” he said.

His wife Lu spoke about the training session for the four graduates, explaining that for 13 days, the clients and their companion dogs practice being together, doing indoor exercises and taking excursions to the movies, the mall, outdoor activities and a restaurant.

“It’s a tough process,” she said. We always have tears, during these days, becaue you don’t know what to expect, and you have to learn really fast. You’ve all come a long way in a really short time. Our training team has done a wonderful job with everyone.”

Each one of the graduates has a special need that their dog will fulfill. There’s Laura Scanlon from Enfield, whose dog, Windy, reminds her to take her medication to avoid falls. She has cataplexy, which causes her to lose consciousness at any time.

“I love her,” Scanlon said, motioning to Windy, who lay quietly under her chair. “She wakes me up to take my meds. She’s a wonderful dog.”

Grace Cutshall, who traveled to Connecticut from her home in North Carolina, was paired with Royale. Cutshall has a condition called CCHS, or congenital central hypoventilation syndrome, a rare condition that prevents her breathing while she’s asleep, which requires her to use a ventilator. If she stops breathing, the ventilator sounds an alarm, which alerts Royale to wake her up. Before the dog came into her life, she said, someone had to be with her all the time. Having Royale provides her with independence, she said.

“Royale’s working when Grace is asleep, so theirs is a unique situation,” Lu Picard said.

Southington resident Bella Gray, 8, has cerebral palsy, a type of brain lesion that affects a child's ability to move, which can also make communication and related skills difficult. Bella is nearly non-verbal and uses a wheelchair, though she is able to walk with assistance.

“I think Taco will help Bella with communication, intervention ... he’ll give her self-confidence,” said her mother Jaime Gray, who underwent the training with her daughter.

And Mudge, a 10-year-old with Asperger’s, will have Dream by her side. Aspergers is a developmental disorder that is characterised by difficulties in social interaction and non-verbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. Dream can help build her confidence and help her learn to communicate with others. She and her mother, Davene, are from Virginia.

“I’ve always had to be cared for by nurses and my parents.Now I’m the caretaker ... this has forever changed my life,” Cutshall said, reading a speech during the celebration.

To learn more about ECAD and its service dogs, visit https://www.ecad1.org/

Connecticut Media Group