Heal Foundation helps match children with service dogs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- At Project Chance in Fernandina Beach, you can't help but fall in love with the herd of puppies that greets you at the door.

"You have a best friend to walk through the world with, you have a permanent in a world of impermanents," says KCJ Szwedzinski the Exec. Director of Project Chance

The golden retriever puppies are being trained by Project Chance in Fernandina Beach to be service dogs for children with Autism.

"The kids learn to feed their dogs and language by teaching their dog left, right, stop. So it builds social skills and it builds language skills," says Szwedzinski.

It is a cause close to the heart of Leslie Weed, a co-founder of the Heal Foundation. Her daughter, Lanier, has autism and had a hard time going out in public, until she got a service dog.

"Because for the first time in her life she had a friend to throw the ball with or go swimming or go to the beach with and was a constant and never placed any demands on her at all," says Weed.

Recently the HEAL Foundation was given a grant of $750,000 by Eleanor Blanchard specifically to train service dogs for children with autism. The pups will soon be social companions and help keep the children safe.

As mother Susan Danese saw at Jaguars game when her son, Thomas, became scared and ran. His service dog, Crosby, immediately ran after Thomas and stopped him.

"Crosby just saved his life because he could have tumbled and fallen down the stairs and just been gone in the crowd," Danese explains.

The close bond between Thomas and Crosby has proven life-saving in multiple ways.

"He helps me when I have a seizure," says Thomas.

Crosby makes sure the people around know Thomas needs help.

"He will bark and he will actually open the door to his (Thomas) room if it is closed and start barking," tells Susan Danese.

So between Project Chance and the Heal Foundation, this litter of waging tails is just the start of four-legged life-changers for families all over the First Coast.

So far the Heal Foundation is booked through 2015 matching children with service dogs, but for more information about the Heal Foundation visit: www.healautismnow.org

For more on Project Chance visit: www.projectchance.com


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