By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Westborough resident Cathy Zemaitis grew up with dogs and horses. So it was no wonder when, in 2012, she took the position as director of development at NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans in Princeton. The nonprofit was established in 1976 and offers a wide spectrum of assistance dog services for those who are deaf or hearing impaired, combat veterans, the physically disabled, classrooms, therapy and ministry, and children with a disability or on the autism spectrum. They have placed over 1,500 service dogs, giving their handlers freedom, physical autonomy, and relief from social isolation.
“NEADS” mission resonated with me from the beginning,” Zemaitis said. “Those of us who have had a meaningful connection with our pet dogs can only begin to understand the depth of a relationship that someone with a service dog experiences.”
Interestingly, 90 to 95 percent of NEADS puppies are trained in 10 correctional facilities throughout New England. Under the guidance of NEADS staff, inmates are able to provide consistent training at a high level simply because of the amount of time they are able to devote to the dogs. While puppies are in the Prison Pup Partnership, NEADS maintains consistent, ongoing communication with correctional officers, inmates and prison administrators.
As part of the Canines for Combat Veterans program, NEADS has?placed more than 55?dogs?with veterans.?The program, which has expanded to include qualifying veterans from all wars?at no cost, is one that hits home for Zemaitis.
“Each and every match is special,” she said. “I grew up in a military family so the dogs that are matched with our veterans through our Canines for Combat Veterans program are especially near and dear to me.”
Zemaitis also helped create the Pawsitively Strong Fund with NEADS” Manager of Communications Lisa Brown to provide service dogs to survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing who sustained a permanent physical disability. Jessica Kensky, who lost a leg to the bombing, was the first to recipient of a NEADS dog, the appropriately named Rescue.
Zemaitis has a NEADS dog of her own, Currahee, a 5-year-old black Labrador.
“Currahee works at NEADS during our client interview process and comes on the road with me to various events and presentations,” Zemaitis said. “He is an excellent example of the best trained assistance dogs in the United States. He lives with me and is not only a colleague but a best friend.”
NEADS is run completely on private donations from individuals, foundations, corporate partners and grants. One of its programs, the Name a Puppy Program, allows donors to name a puppy in exchange for a $1,400 gift. Both Currahee and Rescue were named this way. Currahee (which means “we stand alone” in Cherokee) was named by a veteran and Rescue was named by the Worcester Firefighters Association, which raised money to honor the memory of colleague Jon Davies, who died in a building collapse.
To learn more about NEADS, visit www.neads.org.