Monday, December 06, 2010

Mom Fights School District for Autistic Son's Service Dog Rights

by Stephanie Feldstein

Photo credit: Elizabeth Lasanta, J.C. and Pepsi
For six-year-old J.C. Bowen, his golden retriever, Pepsi, is more than just his best friend. J.C. has autism, and Pepsi helps him get through day-to-day life. He's trained to stop J.C. from running off, rocking, banging his head, and having a meltdown. Pepsi helped J.C. develop his balance and he learned to respond to J.C.'s seizures by keeping him from falling, alerting people when J.C. needs help, and keeping him calm before, during and after an episode. 

It wasn't easy bringing J.C. and Pepsi together. Elizabeth Lasanta, J.C.'s mom, spent 15 months searching for help for her son. After talking to different service dog organizations, she finally connected with East Coast Assistance Dogs, who helped them find funding and the right companion.

Elizabeth said she's never seen an organization like ECAD. Not only do they help kids like J.C., but they also teach at-risk kids to train service dogs. They're accredited by Assistance Dogs International, which is above and beyond what the Americans with Disabilities Act requires of service dogs.

But none of that — not Pepsi's background, his training or all the ways he protects J.C. from harm and helps him get through life — made any difference to the Collier County School District. They told Elizabeth that J.C. had to leave his service dog at home... more

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