Putnam Lions hold fifth annual NEADS walk

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Mon., Sep. 9, 2013
John Ferland pats NEADS assistance dog Moses. Photos by D. Coffey.
John Ferland pats NEADS assistance dog Moses. Photos by D. Coffey.

The Putnam Lions Club held its fifth annual dog walk to support the National Education for Assistance Dog Services on Sept. 7. The Farmers' Market Pavilion turned into a showcase for all things doggy-related in an effort to drum up interest and support for a special NEADS program called “Canines for Combat Veterans.”

Lions Chairperson Stu Neal said he and his wife got interested in the program after fostering two dogs. “We liked the therapeutic value that comes with it,” he said. “People are more confident when they have a dog. They are able to do things again. It's a wonderful program.”

NEADS trains assistance and service dogs for people with a wide array of disabilities. In 2006, NEADS began the Canines for Combat Veterans program, a program geared to Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Dogs are trained to press buttons, open doors, retrieve and carry objects, turn lights off and on, and respond to sounds for those with hearing loss. They can provide assistance with balance and support on ramps and stairs. And they provide unswerving loyalty to their handlers, and bonds that reach far beyond the assistance they provide.

“You name it, they can find a therapy dog to suit your needs,” Neal said. Once dogs complete a basic training program, they are matched up with specific clients. Their training from that point on is tailored to the needs of the individual.

John Ferland brought NEADS dog Moses to the event. Ferland's wife, Dawn, had been partnered with Moses when rheumatoid arthritis and rheumatoid vasculitis made it difficult for her to use her arms. “Moses was her hands,” Ferland said. “He picked up everything for her. He carried everything for her. He'd open doors. He was her pocketbook.”

The white standard poodle stood by his side, a red pack strapped to his body and a red strap called a Gentle Leader strapped around his muzzle. The dog was trained to it, and it serves as his uniform, a reminder that he is working. “Dawn had no strength in her arms,” Ferland said. “A jerk would have been devastating.”

Dogs are screened and come from shelters and breeders, depending on the type of assistance required. Training costs can run upwards of $25,000, said Neal. “It's a 24/7 companion for about 10 years,” he said. “When you break it down into dollars and cents, it's cheap.”

He recalled a NEADS graduation he and his wife had gone to recently. One elderly woman graduated with a hearing assistance dog. “She said if it came down to it, if she'd have to choose her hearing back, or her dog, she'd take her dog,” Neal said. “That was amazing.”

For more information on NEADS, go to www.neads.org.

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