Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pennsylvania boy with MD teaches others about importance of service dogs

From the Reading Eagle:

When 11-year-old Aidan Sandor (pictured) drops a pencil, Song retrieves it.

And if the Fleetwood boy falls and can't get up, the golden retriever knows to find Aidan's mother.

Aidan, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and Song are constant companions thanks to the Canine Assistants program, a national nonprofit that provides service dogs free to people with disabilities.

Now, the Redner's Warehouse Markets store in Ontelaunee Township is teaming with the Milk-Bone dog snack company to buy and train a service dog like Song for another recipient, who has not yet been selected.

"We take a lot of pride in serving our local community," said Eric B. White, consumer communications specialist with Redner's.

Aidan and Song visited Redner's store in Ontelaunee recently when the local grocery chain and Milk-Bone announced their joint donation, totaling $20,000.

Aidan, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 2004, sometimes has problems performing everyday tasks. Song can pick up objects, open doors and turn lights on and off. But more than that, she's a friend. She sleeps on Aidan's bed, accompanies him to school, sits on the exam table during doctor's visits and stays with him in the hospital.

"She's a good companion and she's cute," said Aidan, a fifth-grader at Fleetwood Middle School.

Aidan's parents, Maria McDonnell and Tom Sandor, applied to Canine Assistants when Aidan was in kindergarten. The summer before Aidan entered third grade, the family flew to Georgia for training with Song and to bring her home.

Service dogs like Song typically work for eight to 10 years before retiring. Upon retirement, Song will remain with Aidan as a pet while he gets a new service dog - at no cost.

"Aidan's the luckiest boy in the world," Maria said.