When Angelica Bachour looked for a solution to help her son, Gabriel, to learn socializing skills and other coping mechanisms, she was often brought to tears when running into so many roadblocks.
On Tuesday night, in an online Rotary Club meeting, Bachour was brought to tears once again – but this time tears of joy as Gabriel, 9, was all smiles in announcing that through the efforts of Chelsea Rotary, he had been matched with a service dog specially trained to help kids with Autism.
“I have good news,” said Gabriel to the Zoom audience of Chelsea and Marblehead Rotarians. “I got matched and the dog’s name is Casey. She’s a black Lab and was born in January 2019.”
Gabriel is a Chelsea Public School fourth grader and his mother said she began to feel that he was delayed in his early years. However, that wasn’t confirmed until he attended the Early Learning Center (ELC) and a very astute teacher agreed. Gabriel was able to get services for Autism very early and it has helped him tremendously in being able to go to school and excel.
However, Angelica said he has always struggled with making friends, anxiety and disagreeing peacefully with others.
“He had a lot of anxiety and couldn’t deal with people when they disagreed with him; he was so frustrated,” she said. “That’s when I said I needed to look into getting a dog to help Gabriel. I was so heartbroken because I realized anything I do is just not enough. That’s when we started looking for options to support him. We didn’t want just any dog because I was afraid of a dog attacking him. I was able to get him on a list and they agreed a service dog could help support him in all the areas he needed strength in and the areas a therapist couldn’t help him with. The beginning of relationships are so hard for him.”
That’s where the Chelsea Rotary stepped in and was able to help raise money and do advocacy to get Gabriel his service dog. Working with the NEADS Social Dog Program, they were able to raise the money to help pay for the service dog once he was approved by NEAD.
NEAD is one of the oldest service dog organizations in the country and provide specially trained dogs for a variety of tasks – helping those that are disabled, have hearing loss, veterans, and for those with Autism. They match about 50 people per year with service dogs, said Katy Ostroff. The dogs are trained over about 18 months for their tasks, with a lot of that training being done by prisoners in a jail setting – which is a win-win for the organization and the incarcerated, she said. She said they have been trained in all kinds of environments as well by other trainers, including stressful places like subways and City streets.
In Gabriel’s case, Casey will be able to help him with confidence, understanding body language and social queues and keeping calm – among other things.
She said after an interview in February, they felt Gabriel would benefit greatly from a dog, and they were able to find a match. Next up is a 10-day training on the campus of NEAD to get both accustomed to one another.
Chelsea Rotary President Todd Taylor said it was a great way to help locally in a time when many feel like they are helpless.
“It’s great to be able to help someone locally who needs it and so something meaningful in this age of COVID-19 when so many of us feel helpless and challenged to get out and fulfill our Rotary mission,” he said.