Update: Success Story! Erica and Baker
Erica Way is a typical all American teenager, with a pretty bedroom full of stuffed animals, equestrian ribbons, and a framed picture of her and her boyfriend from last year’s sophomore dance. And there’s one other thing, her wheelchair.
“People used to stare at it” she says. “But now they stare at Baker.”
Baker is a fluffy muffin of love who greets you at the door of the Way home with all the enthusiasm of a Golden Retriever. Just when you think the kisses will never stop, he turns and trots over confidently to the love of his life. There he rests his handsome head on Erica’s knee and listens as she tells the story of how this one very special dog has brought so much joy to so many.
Erica’s mother learned of CDK the way that many do, on a public service announcement played by a local radio station. She thought of her animal loving daughter’s up-coming birthday, and could think of no better way to celebrate than a tour of the CDK facility. But during the visit, she couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps CDK might offer something else for her daughter. Like all who love a differently abled child, Erica’s parents had spent many hours pondering the hard questions. What will happen as Erica gets older? How do we balance her desire for an independent young adulthood with the risks? And how will we mange our fears of her being somewhere all alone?
Erica herself was not so sure about CDK. Not that she didn’t love dogs, but her mind had been set on a different kind of animal–she was already planning for the day she could move to Florida to study marine biology. But she went forward with the application process, and CDK helped her find a training organization. Finally the day of her interview came. The trainers brought out dog after dog to meet her and all were wonderful, loving souls — some with so much love that they nearly knocked her petite frame over. Exhausted, Erica and her mother were ready to head home when the trainer said “If you have time … there is just one more … one more, kind of special dog I’d like you to meet.”
And out came Baker. Still a puppy at heart, but so gentle and calm that he immediately seemed to have been born by her side. Erica was both smitten and surprised at the intensity of her feelings since she didn’t even really think she WANTED a dog. Then the days and weeks of waiting began. Of course, Erica didn’t know if Baker would make it or not, or if Baker would be matched to someone else. But finally, the miraculous phone call came and after all that it had happened. Baker and Erica would begin training for a life together.
All of that was only two years ago, yet in some ways it seems to Erica and her mother to be just about forever. Baker is so a part of their family that it is hard to remember a time that he didn’t board the school bus with her every day. His picture even appears in her yearbook, alphabetized like all the other students! Baker loves all the people in Erica’s life – her handsome boyfriend, her loving parents, her two devoted brothers – and they all love him. But there is only one true love for Baker and that is Erica.
What does Baker do? Well, in addition to all the practical tasks Baker was trained for (pulling open a door, turning off the bedroom lights at night and most especially, picking up the many dropped items Erica manages to lose her grip on throughout the day) he enhances her independence, just by being at her side. Teachers no longer feel they need to subject Erica to the “buddy system” if she leaves the classroom on an errand. Her parents allow her the freedom to run errands on her own at the local neighborhood shopping plaza, secure in the fact that Erica and Baker are capable of watching out for each other. In a word: Baker is THERE. Always by her side, whether it’s sleeping in her bed at night, riding the bus to school in the morning and snoozing below her desk all day, visiting her friends with her after school, or going to the mall. When she goes zooming down her quiet neighborhood streets, her mom worries just a tiny bit less about her tipping over into a pothole or taking it too fast in front of a moving car. When she is home in the evening she is never, ever alone because there is always a furry face beside her. Sure, he would no more menace a stranger then sprout wings and fly, but just having him next to her gives her family peace of mind.
Erica’s plans for her future still include studying marine biology in Florida, but honestly, adds her mom, “who knows where she will end up.” There is only one thing that is certain. Wherever it is that Erica goes, she will have a devoted — and very fuzzy — face by her side.
By Mia Maccolin
Updates on Erica and Baker
Erica graduated High School in June of 2009, with Baker proudly at her side.
Canines for Disabled Kids is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that was founded in 1998. We are an education/advocacy group that educates the public about assistance dogs, and assists families in determining if a service dog is the right tool for their child. If so, we will help them to select the best training program to serve their child's needs, as well as assist with the application process. We provide scholarships to offset the cost of dogs for children 18 and under, as well as advocacy work for all working service dog teams.
CDK only receives private funding, currently from individuals and group fundraisers by schools, civic groups, and grants. We are a non-fee for service program. This means we do not charge families, schools, or other groups for advocacy, information, presentations, or any other assistance given.
As with all reputable organizations, we offer a restricted donation option. We have our Scholarship program – all donations from this fundraiser will be spent on scholarships for children who are receiving service dogs and have applied to our scholarship program; scholarship requirements are available on our website. Our scholarships range from $250 -$5,000, and are awarded to children across the country. This money not only helps to remove a burden from the families, but also encourages training groups to train dogs to work with children with a wide variety of disabilities.
We also have an Education/Advocacy program which includes all of our education programs – we travel across the country providing educational programming for schools, civic groups and businesses interested in learning about service dogs; how they work, what they do, and disability awareness. This also allows us to reach people who may qualify for a service dog, but are unaware that there are service dogs out there trained to work with their disabilities. We provide advocacy work for service dog teams working in the public, as well as extensive one on one conversations with families in search of the perfect tool for their child.