Valerie Zehl, from The Press & Sun-Bulletin writes, it's not as though Anthony Sepe, of Binghamton, never had a dog before.
When he was a boy, Princess was the family's pet -- a sweet, obedient, black-and-white mixed breed still wistfully remembered by Anthony and his mother, Mary.
Then there was Jack, a Belgian Malinois -- a police dog -- who was tan in color and took his responsibility of looking out for his family most seriously.
They were great dogs, but Anthony, 49, never felt about them the way he does about the two-year-old black Lab named Phineas.
He never bought super-plush beds for Princess or Jack, but Phineas has one.
"He deserves a soft bed, because he'll be working hard all day," Anthony explains.
Valerie Zehl/Staff Photo
Anthony Sepe has been preparing for the arrival of a special dog into his life. Phineas, a 2-year old black lab, has been specially trained to help Anthony.
The spunky young dog isn't even in the Sepes' home yet, but Anthony has been dutifully making check marks and noting the dates on which he purchased essential equipment. And he never read books in preparation for bringing other dogs into his home, but this time he's been studying two volumes for months.
Phineas is no ordinary dog. He will fill a need few other dogs can. He's trained to be a service dog and Anthony, who was born with cerebral palsy that's been worsening over the years, needs his assistance.
Not that the disease has slowed Anthony down much. He holds several college degrees and writes and publishes his own books, with a cookbook of recipes from dieticians like himself due out later this year.
But falls have become a problem for Anthony, and Phineas has been trained to stay still so he can support Anthony's weight as he rights himself into a standing position. Bending down is excruciating, so Phineas has been also trained to retrieve dropped objects as small as a pencil and bring in the morning newspaper.
Phineas has been instructed virtually since birth, when a volunteer family took him into their "puppy home" for two years. There he learned the sit-and-stay stuff while the family and representatives of the Canine Partners for Life service dog program watched the dog's behavior and personality closely. That foster family took the puppy wherever they went, to socialize and acclimate him to all sorts of situations.
Then Phineas wagged a happy goodbye and went into his next temporary home, along with other young pups in the next stage of their hoped-for destinies. At the Cochranville, Pennsylvania, facility, the dogs received intensive training to guide their future reactions and performance in helping their designated people.
Individual strengths in the dogs determine which person and which situation would best suit them.
Phineas was matched with Anthony, and it was mutual joy at first sight when the Sepes traveled to see him in March.
Phineas even chose Mary out of a half-dozen women sitting on a bench, laying his head into her lap.
The Sepes will make a return trip on June 18. They'll stay three weeks and this time it won't only be Phineas receiving intensive training. Anthony will be a student, too, understanding how best to interact with his new housemate.
Housing and training Phineas -- and teaching Anthony -- costs far more than the group requires from each human partner. Anthony has already paid the initial costs involved, and Applebee's will host a second set of fundraisers for him to offset the costs of travel, hotel and meal expenses for the upcoming trip.
It will be well worth the time and 12-hour roundtrip drive, because at the end of it, Phineas will be in his new home.
Source: Valerie Zehl, Neighbors columnist can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go
- From 11 a.m. until closing on June 2, Applebee's Restaurants at 3701 Vestal Parkway, Vestal, and 842 Upper Front St., Binghamton, will donate 10 percent of guests' checks toward Canine Partners for Life and Anthony Sepe.