More than 'man's best friend'
October 20, 2011
Long heralded as "man's best friend," a dog can serve a human partner in so many different ways. Just ask Deb Mangano.
Mangano, the Natick Soldier Systems Center protocol officer, has watched as "Mark," her daughter's "social dog," has helped Lindsay with her autism over the past four years.
"Lindsay just fell in love with Mark right away," Mangano said. "Social interactions are extremely, extremely difficult for Lindsay."
As Mangano told the audience Oct. 19 at a National Disability Employment Awareness Month program entitled "Profit by Investing in Workers with Disabilities" at U.S. Army Garrison-Natick, the Flat-Coated Retriever often broken the ice for her daughter in social situations.
"You're completely drawn to this dog," said Mangano, who had Mark with her. "She is completely focused on him."
Mangano and her family got Mark from the National Education for Assistance Dog Services, or NEADS. A nonprofit organization since 1976, NEADS, based in Princeton, Mass., matches assistance dogs with people who are deaf or have disabilities.
According to John Moon, NEADS director of programs and communications, it takes 18 months and as much as $25,000 to acquire, neuter/spay, train and match one service dog with the appropriate partner.
"We want to make sure that the right dog is found for the right individual," Moon said. "This is what we do, and we do it willingly and happily. It's really very genuine work. We're very fortunate to be able to do what we do."
The dogs are trained in a unique way -- by prisoners in correctional facilities during the week and by volunteer "puppy raisers" on the weekends.
"Being a puppy raiser is truly a neat thing," said Peter Frykman, a U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine research physiologist who is currently raising two dogs with his wife. "They come to visit us at our house on weekends, and then we take them back … on Sunday night."
Frykman had one of the dogs -- a Black Lab -- with him at Natick. She lounged on the stage at Hunter Auditorium as he spoke.
"This dog lives in the Framingham prison," Frykman said. "There's a prisoner there who serves as her trainer. We work with (her) every weekend for a year, a year and a half. Then the serious work begins."
That finishing work is done at the NEADS headquarters in Princeton. Dogs who graduate that program are matched with people who need them.
"Last year we graduated 57. This year we only graduated 43," Moon said. "It always varies."
NEADS founded "Canines for Combat Veterans" after giving a May 2006 presentation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Combat veterans of any American conflict with a qualifying disability can receive an assistance dog from NEADS for free. More than 35 CCV dogs already have been placed with veterans.
Knowing where they are headed takes the sting out of being separated from the dogs once Frykman's training work is done.
"These dogs are going to go on to help somebody," Frykman said.
Lieutenant Colonel Frank Sobchak, USAG-Natick garrison commander, recognized Frykman and Moon for their "noble" work for veterans and others.
"There is no greater calling," Sobchak said. "Thank you for both what you do and also thank you for coming here today and sharing your stories with us."
Sobchak also shared the stories of two seriously wounded Soldiers with whom he had served in Iraq. Both recovered and continue to serve in the Army.
"When we talk about profiting by investing in workers with disabilities, it is real," Sobchak said. "I've seen it personally. It is truly a way of investing in the future."