Guest Blogger, Patricia Robert (ECAD)
The moment I read the words JUST DO SOMETHING, I knew this was the perfect space in which to write about ECAD – Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities – and its co-founders, Dale and Lu Picard. If ever there were two people who personify these three words, it is this husband and wife team who began ECAD twenty years ago this year in their two-car garage with a $15,000.00 grant from the Hartford CT Jaycees. With passion and total commitment they have developed an organization that is one of the most respected in its field, one that is known for placing expertly educated canines with the most difficult of cases, and for establishing Project HEALTM, a program designed specifically to meet the needs of Veterans.
‘Just do something’ is the thought Lu had when, in 1994, her dad suffered a stroke, and, unable to stand up much less walk by himself, he sank into a deep depression. Lu, who had always had a way with dogs, put the leash of the family dog, Juliet, into her dad’s hands. “Pull” she commanded Juliet. Within a short time, Juliet did just that and pulled Lu’s dad onto his feet. “Brace” came next. Lu’s dad and Juliet became a team, making it on their own, and his depression vanished. This is it, Lu thought: this is what I am here for. Dale’s background as a small business owner gave them the foundation they needed to start a company.
Their early success, and their reputation for the excellent education their Service Dogs received, brought them into contact with educators who were in the forefront of animal-human therapy. Again, the Picards thought, lets just do something that helps kids too. So, in 1997, with contracts from two alternative schools in Westchester County, they created the ECADemy Program. This program, part of the curriculum at participating schools, educates at-risk teens to educate the dogs in the eighty-nine commands they must know to be certified as Service or Assistance Dogs.
Dale, born and raised on a farm, knows how to use his hands and in quick order he turned his two-car garage into a kennel that could house a good many dogs. Thus was born the ECAD campus in Torrington CT and it is here that puppies still begin their “socialization” and basic training. It is also here that a well-attended annual Summer Camp takes place. The Picards began to purpose-breed their Golden Retrievers and Labradors in 1997 to insure that all the dogs placed would have the ideal temperament and work ethic necessary for a long career as a Service Dog. In 1997, they moved their main office to a facility on the campus in Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, NY. In 2009, ECAD inaugurated the Project HEALTM Program, specifically for Veterans of the Armed Services, many who have, in addition to physical injuries and amputations, the invisible disabilities of PTSD and TBI.
Each year, ECAD places a minimum of seventeen Service Dogs, as well as Facility Dogs in Hospitals, and Courtroom Dogs, such as the famous Rosie, who work with DAs in sensitive cases involving minors. With a goal to place more Service Dogs each year, ECAD has embarked on a Capital Campaign and is actively seeking property with an existing structure that will enable ECAD’s instructors to educate many more SDiT than is possible now. It is anticipated that the ECADemy Program will continue.
With care, and an eye toward fiscal responsibility necessary for a non-profit organization, the Picards have seen to it that ECAD could expand successfully. Dale is the CEO and Lu Director of Programs. The company has a staff of sixteen including instructors, kennel managers, marketing and fundraising personnel. There is a roster of volunteers and home handlers. Two major fundraising events are held each year, one in Westchester, and one in Greenwich CT, with smaller events taking place throughout the year. ECAD has received a four star rating from Charity Navigator for the past four consecutive years. ECAD applies for and receives significant grants each year.
ECAD is indeed a dream come true for the Picards. What is most important is that through their work, their determination to just do something, their dream became a reality for the many people with disabilities who lead better lives because they have an ECAD Service Dog by their side.
It has been my privilege to be part of the ECAD team as a contributing writer to the quarterly newsletter for almost five years. Frankly, I’ve had a lot of fun. But I also admit that I never fail to shed tears at every single graduation ceremony when I see the newly paired client and Service Dog, going home, together. In this, I am joined by Dale and Lu Picard.
– Patricia Robert
Patricia began working at ECAD in 2010 and has been contributing to the newsletter ever since, which she loves. She says “After a lifetime of working in “show business” (including 13 years as an executive at Radio City Music Hall) a wonderful stroke of fate brought me to ECAD. Every g time I am there I see a positive aspect of what is being accomplished. One day, as I was crossing the Children’s Village Campus, one of the student trainers called out my name and waved. I was on Cloud Nine, I felt like a celebrity. I love seeing the faces of the clients during Team Training when they have their very own Service Dog and I love seeing how each dog just knows the person is theirs alone. A highlight of my time with ECAD will always be helping Rosie get her photo on the front page of the NY Times. She was the most accommodating and sweet natured celebrity I have ever known.”