QUINCY âˆ’ A 13-year-old boy with Down syndrome and other special needs, Sam Fehan can struggle to get his point across to his teachers, friends and family.
Speech is a challenge and clear communication is something he works on daily. But with Faith, the service dog his family brought home just four weeks ago, there’s an easy rapport.
“Faith is a friend,” Sam said of the golden retriever/Labrador as she settled into his lap.
Getting a service dog for Sam was a process two years in the making, but the Fehans brought Faith home to Squantum just in time to celebrate Thanksgiving as a family. They worked with Connecticut-based nonprofit Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities to find the perfect furry match, and raised $25,000 through their church, family, friends and strangers.
“Our neighbors around here, in Quincy and beyond, were so generous,” Mike Fehan, Sam’s dad, said. “I was ignorant of how kind people would be. If we go for a walk, Sam is like the mayor around here, but I had no idea how much people cared. It was very encouraging.”
‘This will be our Super Bowl’:Plimoth Patuxet chef prepares all the Thanksgiving fixings
Beth Fehan, Sam’s mom, reached out to Educated Canines almost two years ago to inquire about a service dog for her son. Her reasons were complex, but she wanted to provide Sam both opportunities for independence and a constant companion as his three brothers prepared to graduate high school and move from their Quincy home.
“Sam is 13 years old, he wants more independence. He doesn’t want to be holding his mother’s hand every time we’re in a parking lot,” Beth said. “This is exactly what we were looking for.”
The agency trains dogs for people with autism, physical disabilities and other special needs, but had never placed a pet for anyone with Down syndrome. Lu Picard, the organization’s co-founder and director of programs, was on board from the very beginning, Beth said.
The Fehans completed a lengthy application process that included recommendations from teachers and a doctor’s note. Once they were approved, they fundraised and started to talk about what traits would make the perfect companion for Sam. Then, they were matched with Faith.
Once the dog was old enough, the agency began training Faith to retrieve, turn lights on and off, push buttons and otherwise perform helpful tasks. Then Beth Fehan went to Connecticut for a two-week, full-time training course with Faith, which included field trips to shopping centers and a movie theater, lectures on service dogs and endless practice with Educated Canines staff members, where she learned everything from what tone of voice to use to how often she should repeat a command.
Take a look:Hanover’s Showcase Cinemas is open
Ultimately, she and Faith passed a rigorous “public access test” that showed they were ready to be in public, no-pets-allowed places. The Fehans’ goal is to have Sam pass the test with her next year, which would allow him to take Faith to school at Quincy’s Southwest Middle School. As of now, he knows the basic commands for his dog, feeds her every meal and handles most of her grooming. They go on walks as a family, but are working on Sam and Faith being comfortable enough to go alone.
Though it’s been only a month since Faith became a Fehan, she’s already perfected helping Sam down the stairs, sleeping with him to monitor his heart rate and breathing, walking as a family around the neighborhood and keeping Sam calm during his numerous regular doctor’s visits. In addition to added safety, the Fehan’s are hoping she’ll be a companion for Sam and someone he can talk to as he works to improve his speech.
“She’s perfect,” Beth said.
For the rest of the family, Faith is acting as a pet and helper when it comes to caring for Sam. She keeps a constant eye on him and helps keep track of him in busy public places.
“It’s great for Sam but it’s also great for me as a mom,” Beth said. “There are certain situations every mom knows are stressful: parking lots, crowds, malls, where you don’t feel safe even looking at a shelf. Faith has changed all of that.”
Thanks to our subscribers, who help make this coverage possible. If you are not a subscriber, please consider supporting quality local journalism with a Patriot Ledger subscription. Here is our latest offer.
Reach Mary Whitfill at email@example.com.