Photographs by ChiChi Ubiña
An interview with Carrie Picard, about her family's service organization. ECAD's mission is to enable people with disabilities to gain greater independence and mobility through the use of specially educated dogs.
Tell us about how your family started ECAD. What was the inspiration and when did you start it?
ECAD was founded by Dale and Lu Picard in 1995 following a very personal experience. Lu's father suffered a stroke. In addition to the difficulties in walking and maintaining balance, he was also depressed because he had to rely on others to do things. Lu trained the family pet to help her dad. He would hold the leash, and upon command, the dog would pull Lu's dad to his feet and then brace him so he would not fall. Lu saw an immediate change in her dad's mental outlook. He and the dog became inseparable. He felt comfortable relying on the dog in ways that he could not with his family. Lu thought, I can help so many in this way. She and Dale followed this dream to the great success that ECAD is today.
It takes two years to educate an ECAD Service Dog beginning when the puppies are around six weeks, although they will begin interaction with humans shortly after birth. The dogs will attend kindergarten, grade and high school sessions at the schools where ECADemy is part of the curriculum. They graduate and are paired with their partner following a two week Team Training Session at the ECAD facility in Dobbs Ferry.
Please give some examples of what the dogs can do as companions.
ECAD Service Dogs are educated to help their person by picking up dropped objects, such as cell phones, keys, money, food. They help their person to stand and stay balanced. They can load and unload the wash, open and close doors. ECAD Service Dogs are also educated to help people, mostly Armed Service Veterans through the Project HEAL Program, who have PTSD or TBI. They are educated to help their person overcome hyper-vigilance and fear of crowds. ECAD Service Dogs help people who have a myriad of debilitating diseases, also children with Autism.
The ECADemy Program was established in 1997, first at Green Chimneys in Brewster, NY, and subsequently at five alternative schools in Westchester County. ECADemy is part of the curriculum at these schools. The program explores the strength of the human-canine bond. The students, many of them society's most vulnerable, are trained to educate the Service Dogs thereby learning skills for life and skills for employment.
How many kids participate in how many schools? What have the results been? For the kids and for the dogs?
Over 800 students have participated in the ECADemy Program so that is about 60 a year. All of these children and teens have shown a marked improvement in controlling their frustration, anger and other socialization problems. There is also a written curriculum. The Picards remain in touch with many of their students. A high percentage of these students return to their families and their communities with a healthier attitude and are able to complete school, get good jobs, even run their own business.
ECAD's Service Dogs will have interacted with a number of people while being educated. This prepares them to respond to commands from more than just one person. Anyone who has observed a session at ECADemy will see the eagerness with which the dogs attend class. This eagerness is demonstrated by much wagging of tails. Both students and dogs know they are doing something worthwhile that will benefit others.