HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – After serving in the Army for five years, through two tours in Iraq, SPC Kevin Conlon was trapped by traumatic duty-related psychological and physical pain. He couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t comfortably leave his house and most importantly, he couldn’t spend time with his wife and daughter outside his home.
That all changed when Conlon met Dior, a golden retriever in the Project HEAL Program with the Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities organization.
Dior, along with three of his siblings graduated from ECAD’s program and were officially recognized in a ceremony in Hastings Wednesday.
“It’s like night and day. Before I wouldn’t go anywhere,” Conlon said. “Now I went out to the mall and that hyper vigilance, that anxiety, is mostly gone. It’s still there but it’s so small it doesn’t affect me. He just makes me focus on him and makes me realizes there’s nothing there that’s going to bother me because if he’s relaxed and he’s chilled out, I can be.”
Conlon said his bond with Dior is so close that one night Dior could tell he was having a nightmare and woke him up. Dior then stayed by his side until he was relaxed and fell back asleep.
ECAD was founded in 1995 by Lu and Dale Picard and since then they, and a dedicated team of trainers, have trained 225 dogs that help improve the lives of veterans, disabled people and Autistic children.
Dale Picard said watching a new batch of dogs and trainers graduate is like sending children to college – it’s never as bad as the first one and it gets easier each time.
“The group of people leaving tonight have a new lease on life,” Picard said. “They have a tool other than a human to go out and help them succeed at what they want to do. That’s what it means to me – freedom.”
Other ECAD graduates include:
- Armani, who will help LCPL Robert Pratte, a Marine who served in Vietnam, with combat-related issues as well as detecting blood sugar changes from diabetes.
- Billy, who will help Cayla, a 22-year-old with Congenital Myopathy Muscular Dystrophy, who is pursuing a degree in child psychology.
- Chanel, who will help Lois, a Long Island resident with Muscular Dystrophy.