SHENANDOAH ‚ÄĒ Seven-year-old Dariel Nunez, of Shenandoah, recently met his new ‚Äúbest friend forever‚ÄĚ in what is hoped will become a bond between a boy and his dog like Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
Dariel‚Äôs new BFF is a certified service dog named ‚ÄúKluck,‚ÄĚ a 13-month-old golden retriever that will provide companionship, assistance and protection for a boy who has dealt with medical issues since birth.
Kluck made his first visit to St. Joseph‚Äôs Center for Special Learning last Thursday. He was brought to the school by Dariel‚Äôs mother, Jansell Nunez, and sister, Jarielys, to meet up with Dariel and his daytime nurse, Amanda Ulicny, who arrived earlier when the school opened. Until a handler is found, Kluck will stay at home when Dariel goes to the school.
The search for a service dog for Dariel began four years ago because of a history of seizures combined with him not being able to verbally tell others there is a problem. His seizures have diminished over time, but they still occur occasionally, and an incident with Dariel within the past year indicated the need for a service dog.
When Dariel was born, the prognosis was not good due to his medical problems, which included struggling to breathe, and the doctors could not find a way to help him. At the time, his diagnosis was ‚Äúfailure to thrive‚ÄĚ and he was sent home from the hospital and a hospice was set up.
Jansell took Dariel to Children‚Äôs Hospital of Philadelphia for a second opinion. While at CHOP, doctors were able to diagnose Dariel with a number of different, yet related, disorders. Primarily, Dariel was diagnosed with Chromosome 21Q 22.12q22.3 microdeletion, a missing chromosome that is extremely rare.
Dariel was also diagnosed with ventricular septal defect, (a muscular disorder), factor VII deficiency (a blood disorder), a feeding disorder, a seizure disorder and Hypospadia (a urinary disorder). He was later diagnosed with autism. He requires full-time care as he is unable to effectively communicate, needs assistance with everyday tasks, and can be inconsolable at times.
Despite his medical issues and the earlier prognosis, Dariel is a blessing to his family, who take each day one at a time and show their love for him.
And while Dariel has shown improvements over the years, the service dog is needed so that when Dariel would have a seizure or other problem, the service dog would be trained to know something is wrong and alert someone in the home.
In 2014, a local family who had a service dog for their child provided information to the Nunez family about 4 Paws for Ability, a nonprofit organization that enriches lives of children with disabilities by training and placing service dogs.
Jansell applied for a service dog and it was accepted by 4 Paws for Ability. Based on the application, the service dog would be trained for behavior disruption (touching, nudging and snuggling) when Dariel is upset, assist with stability for Dariel when walking, tethering during walks to prevent Dariel from wandering off, tracking in the event Dariel would get lost and alerting of an impending seizure. The service dog can also help Dariel with social interaction skills when he is out in public.
The acceptance for Dariel to get a certified service dog was only the first step. The cost of a dog is about $14,000, plus costs for traveling for the training period.
After learning a dog was available, Jansell began to prepare for the trip to 4 Paws in Xenia, Ohio, with much of the family and Ulicny staying for a two-week training period that would be the final determination on whether Dariel and Kluck would go home together.
‚ÄúIt was 14 days straight from 9:30 to 4, with an hour lunch for the families,‚ÄĚ Ulicny said while always keeping an eye on Dariel in the classroom that had other students and their aides. ‚ÄúThey did split us into two different classes. They included grooming an animal, training, medical needs and about reporting back to 4 Paws.‚ÄĚ
The classes were July 2 to 13, including weekends and holiday, and each class builds on material from the previous day, according to a text message from 4 Paws to Jansell. Instructions stated that it was required to have two adults (at least one a legal guardian) and the child to take part in classes.
After the first day, Ulicny said Kluck went with the family to the hotel, which had 13 families staying in it.
‚ÄúTraining was crazy,‚ÄĚ Jansell said. ‚ÄúYou don‚Äôt have that much time in two weeks, but training was amazing. Kluck has completely changed our lives. It is an eye-opener when you see the dog and the impact of them together. They were meant for each other. He is a very good dog.‚ÄĚ
The importance of having the service dog became very evident last November.
‚ÄúDariel fell down the stairs and we almost lost him,‚ÄĚ Jansell said.
Jansell showed a leash for Kluck that connects him with Dariel when they go away from the house.
‚ÄúWhen you open a door, Dariel flies. Having Kluck attached to him, it does not let Dariel do whatever he wants,‚ÄĚ Jansell said. ‚ÄúWhen Dariel begins hitting his head, Kluck immediately goes to Dariel‚Äôs foot to try to distract Dariel. We had to wait four years, but it is the right match.‚ÄĚ
The wait was mainly for an available dog, not fundraising. A story about Dariel was published in The Republican-Herald in August 2014, and Jansell said the $14,000 was raised in eight months.
‚ÄúThen we went on the waiting list because Kluck is a tracking dog, so that if Dariel takes off and nobody realizes it, he can find wherever Dariel is hiding. If we were looking for a regular behavior dog, it would have been faster, but the waiting list is longer for a tracking dog.‚ÄĚ
Kluck wears a special harness and leash when working as a service dog, but when removed, Kluck becomes a normal dog.
‚ÄúOnce we put on the harness and soft leash, he knows he‚Äôs on the job,‚ÄĚ Jansell said.
Jansell said there was a recent trip to Locust Lake State Park to continue training that had Dariel hidden with Jarielys while Jansell distracted Kluck.
‚ÄúKluck did not know where Dariel was, and I told him, ‚ÄėFind your boy,‚Äô ‚ÄĚ Jansell said. ‚ÄúHe ran and quickly found his boy. He gets so excited when he sees his boy. In the house, he‚Äôs always with Dariel. Even when he‚Äôs not on the job. We‚Äôre so lucky to have that bond. Not everybody has the bond between dog and child so quickly. When Kluck sees Dariel moving his feet, he knows Dariel‚Äôs getting anxious, so he tries to calm Dariel down.‚ÄĚ
One of the next steps is taking Kluck and Dariel to St. Teresa of Calcutta Roman Catholic Church in Mahanoy City, where the family attends Mass. Jansell plans to speak to the pastor, the Rev. Kevin Gallagher, about first bringing Kluck into the church when it is empty so he can become familiar with surroundings.
‚ÄúBeing in church with so many people and sometimes it‚Äôs so loud, Dariel does not do so well. I‚Äôm hoping I can start going to Mass more frequently and have Dariel there,‚ÄĚ she said.
The Nunez household has two cats, and there has not been feline-canine tensions.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm hoping they get along. Now, they‚Äôre testing the waters,‚ÄĚ Jansell said.
Another positive of participating in training was being with other families dealing with similar issues.
‚ÄúIt was really nice to be with other families and be normal,‚ÄĚ Jansell said. ‚ÄúPeople don‚Äôt understand what it‚Äôs like having a special-needs son. With his behavior, normal people will look at you and you try to isolate yourself. After two weeks with the other families, it was like I was normal. My son‚Äôs behavior is normal. Everybody was saying that ‚ÄėYou‚Äôre doing your job. You‚Äôre doing good, Jansell.‚Äô I did not see it because I was so afraid, and now being 14 days with 17 families, it was amazing.‚ÄĚ
There was much training for Kluck before meeting Dariel for the first time. Videos were sent by Jansell to 4 Paws to be used in Kluck‚Äôs training in learning Dariel‚Äôs appearance and behaviors. The trainers would act out the behaviors and teach Kluck how to respond. When Kluck met Dariel for the first time, he knew who ‚Äúhis boy‚ÄĚ was right away.
‚ÄúWhen they first met, Dariel was in shock at first, but Kluck reaction was, ‚ÄėThis is him,‚Äô ‚ÄĚ Jansell said.
Photos posted on Facebook showed Dariel and Kluck quickly became close, even sleeping together.
To learn more about 4 Paws, go to www.4PawsForAbility.org. To see photos and videos of the training period in Ohio, go to the 4 Paws for Dariel page on Facebook.
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