LuAnn Thibodeau

Perhaps you have heard of NEADS before, or have driven by their location in Princeton and seen the sign and wondered what NEADS is. Well, this will help you to learn a bit more about NEADS and their mission.

NEADS (originally National Education for Assistance Dog Services and Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans) was started in 1976. They are a 501(C) (3) nonprofit organization that has trained over 1,900 dogs since 1976. They are accredited by Assistance Dogs International. 

NEADS dogs are trained to provide independence to individuals who are deaf or have physical disabilities; they provide confidence and socialization for children with autism and other developmental disabilities; and they provide therapeutic assistance in helping professionals in classroom, ministry, therapeutic, hospital, and courthouse settings.

But what’s it really like? What do the folks at NEADS do to train the dogs, what is day to day life like?  Well, I got to see it first hand and I am nothing but completely amazed. These folks and the dogs are awesome, delightful, wonderful, and so much more. 

I received the grand tour and was able to see where the dogs live and go to classes. From the street the place seems rather small but looks are deceiving. The campus has a small administration area in one of the buildings, with the rest of that building housing the training areas. The day I was there, I started my tour when the training staff was on their lunch break, which is also break time for the dogs. It was so cute to see the dogs laying down and resting, much like kids in preschool at nap time. But as soon as the break was over, it was time to start working again. So upstairs to one of the training areas we went. 

A black lab named Bobby, was ready to show me what he knew. First, his trainer told me that whenever any of the dogs has their vest and leash on, they know that they are working. The trainer led Bobby to the refrigerator and told him to open the door and get a bottle of water. Bobby pulled the braided rug rope that was attached to the door, opened the door, put the bottle sideways in his mouth, and brought it to the trainer. I was in awe, and this was just the beginning. Bobby also walks alongside a wheelchair, and when told, opens doors by pressing the automatic door opener button. He offers assistance if the trainer is sitting on the floor and needs to get up, and then also quietly lays down and rests when he is instructed to do so. 

To say that I loved watching what Bobby could do is an understatement, to say the least. And although I am generally a cat person, Bobby really struck my heart, not just because of the exceptional things he does, but because there was someone special in my life named Bobby- my dearly departed older brother. So I think Bobby the dog is a special sign to me from my big brother. 

There are other parts of the campus, including a residential house where recipients who are matched with a dog live together for a few weeks, as they become accustomed to each other. The house is completely handicap accessible, and is designed to replicate a home environment. Another building houses a small retail store, where NEADS branded items are available. And there is another that houses the breeding program, but that’s a visit and a story for another time. 

NEADS also plans on having veterinary services right on the campus. Currently, plans are being drawn up and discussions about the logistics are taking place. 

Of course, you can imagine that the cost of running a program like this is not cheap. As a non-profit organization, fundraising is a very important function. NEADS is having a fun fundraising event on April 23rd, from 11 am to 4 pm. Pulling 4 Paws- NEADS Truck Pull 2023, will be held at Polar Park in Worcester. 15 member teams can register for the event in one of the following divisions- Police, Fire, City/Town, Business, School, Corrections Officers, or US Military. One team member must be connected to the division that they are registered in; for example, a Corrections Officers team must have a Corrections Officer on the team. 

More information about this event can be found on NEADS website, where you can register a team, or sponsor a team that is already registered. And all are welcome to come to the event to cheer on their favorite team. Make it a fun day for the whole family.