WINSTED — On Wednesday, March 17, ECAD (Educating Canines Assisting with Disabilities) held its first graduation of 2021 celebrating the five teams of newly trained service dogs and their clients. The dogs, Sugar, Sarge, Dazzle, Vega, and Cosmos, all sat calmly and quietly next to their new owners during the emotional 45-minute program.
ECAD co-owners Lu and Dale Picard hosted the small event at their facility on Newfield Road. The event, which is usually open to the public, was live-streamed on the organization’s Facebook page due to COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.
In addition to thanking the graduates, the Picards also thanked their donors and the Winsted community for its support. “We are honored to be a part of this community for the last 25 years and we are looking forward to 25 more,” Dale Picard said. Picard also thanked the Barkhamsted Lions Club for their continued support.
Lu Picard praised the trainers and the clients for their hard work and commitment during ECAD’s intensive training. “For 13 days, they teach the clients how to handle their dogs and get them to bond,” she said. The organization has trained 350 dogs in the last 26 years, Picard noted.
High school student Jake Louzan, of Quincy, Massachusetts, spoke eloquently at the celebration about what his service dog and ECAD means to him. Jake, who has cerebral palsy, said his new service dog Cosmos will allow him to be more independent in the community. “Cosmos will help me by opening doors and helping me pick up things I drop,” he explained to the small group of family members and ECAD staff. “ECAD makes the world a better place in so many unique ways.” Lu Picard noted that Jake has a great sense of humor and added that his “determination is beyond belief.”
Five-year-old Quinn Doty and her mother Allison, both from New Hartford, attended the graduation with Quinn’s new service dog, Sugar. Quinn has Pitt Hopkins Syndrome, a very rare genetic disorder that is characterized by intellectual disability and developmental delay, breathing problems, recurrent seizures, severe gastrointestinal issues, lack of speech, and distinctive facial features. Despite her condition, Quinn’s mobility continues to improve as she grows and her family hopes Sugar will help Quinn with mobility, safety, and tactile stimulation as well as helping her to feel more self-assured in her interactions with people. “This little girl amazes us,” said Lu Picard of Quinn during the ceremony. Picard also stressed how committed Allison was to the training process.
Carly Lloyd of Washington, DC, attended the program with her service dog, Sarge. Carly has Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) as well as Hypermobility Type Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). These disorders cause a multitude of problems including chronic pain and fatigue, joint hypermobility, and fainting, all of which forced her to take a medical leave from her freshman year in college. Carly, who uses braces and a cane to help with mobility, hopes Sarge will offer her more support, safety, and independence as she learns to manage her difficult disabilities.
Daniel Stone, of Summit, New Jersey, attended the graduation with his service dog, Dazzle. Daniel suffers from Idiopathic Hypersomnia, anxiety, and depression. Idiopathic Hypersomnia is an uncommon, chronic neurological disorder that causes excessive sleepiness. His service dog Dazzle will help ensure that Daniel fully wakes up in the morning so he can move back to New York City, attend college in person, attend all of his club meetings, listen to class speakers, be more socially interactive with his peers and live more independently.
According to Lu Picard, Daniel is just madly in love with his service dog Dazzle. Picard said Dazzle has learned to get on an escalator “like a champ” as well as mastering how to help wake up Daniel gently but firmly.
Edna Bronzino traveled from Hawaii for her service dog, Vega. Vega has the distinction of being the first ECAD dog to go to Hawaii. Sixteen years ago, Bronzino found out she had Multiple Sclerosis when she had an x-ray done at the hospital after being in a terrible car accident. Over the years, MS has progressively impaired her gait and balance. Bronzino knew she would need help after having two bad falls. Vega will give her a chance to maintain her lifestyle as much as possible, especially when she is alone.
Lu Picard also congratulated Lisa Hammel, who is the Director of Special Education for the Board of Cooperative Educational Services for Putnam and Westchester Counties in New York, for her recent graduation from the program with her service dog, Disney, who will be used to assist students with disabilities.
Lu Picard recognized ECAD’S amazing volunteers who act as home handlers for the service dogs. “They go to our classes and listen and follow all of our rules,” she said. “They help us to make the best service dogs.”
She also thanked the “puppy nannies,” who volunteer their time to come and play with the puppies and socialize them and get “puppy love” in return. “We appreciate them so much,” Picard said.
ECAD, a nonprofit organization, was co-founded in 1995 by the Picards. Lu Picard first got the idea to train service dogs after her father suffered a stroke and she taught their family pet to help him. The business first started in their two-car garage.
After receiving their accreditation, the Picards started their program in New York and paired with a school for children with special needs. The organization then transitioned to its current facility in Winchester. This facility includes a breeding center, kennel, and large training center.
Lauren Howard, ECAD’s client fundraising specialist, said ECAD uses only yellow Labradors and golden retrievers for their program. The dogs start with ECAD’S nursery program at six to eight weeks old. Trained volunteers help with housebreaking the puppies and teaching them simple commands.
The dogs begin their official training when they are six to eight months old, Howard said. Trained volunteers also take the dogs home for weekends, allowing them to have a home life. The dogs go to different places each weekend to expose dogs to many different situations.
Each service dog costs $50,000. ECAD asks clients to raise $25,000 of that cost through fundraising. Howard’s role is to help clients create fundraising campaigns. ECAD spays or neuters the dogs and provides constant care and food in addition to the intensive training. “We make sure the dogs are exposed to every situation we can think of to help our clients,” she said. ECAD dogs receive five times the amount of training required to be service animals, Howard said.
Team training is a 13-day intensive process that involves the clients and the dogs. The clients get familiar with grooming, commands, and the day-to-day process of how to handle the dogs and they bond with each other.
ECAD dogs help serve people with over 50 different disabilities, including PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Multiple Sclerosis, and Autism.
The organization has three different programs: Project Heal, which helps veterans with PTSD and/or traumatic brain injuries; Canine Magic that focuses on providing service dogs to children with autism; and Open Doors, which provides service dogs to people with mobility or balance issues.
Staff at the facility includes the Picards, two advanced trainers, an intermediate trainer, and a puppy trainer. Howard has been with the organization since September of 2019. She said it doesn’t even feel like a job. “I love coming to work,” Howard admitted. “We love our volunteers and our donors.”
Howard said once someone becomes an ECAD client, they have a lifelong connection with them. “We also give them homework and ask them to keep journals for the first six weeks,” she explained. “If they have any problems or questions or they forget how to do something, they can talk to us.” Once a year, clients return to the facility with their dogs as a refresher course and to get recertified, Howard said.
For more information on ECAD, or to volunteer go to ecad1.org, call 860-489-6550 or send an e-mail to email@example.com. If you are just in need of a smile, go to their live Puppy Cam anytime at https://explore.org/livecams/ecad/east-coast-assistance-dogs-cam.