McCrea’s Candies Advent Calendar is something truly special this year. It celebrates the many pets that offered emotional support through the challenges of the pandemic and helped make the days of isolation and uncertainty more bearable.
The bond between people and pets runs deep. This was particularly true during quarantine. As we considered the theme of this year’s Advent Calendar, we thought about how much our beloved animals had contributed to keeping our spirits up when things felt bleak and scary. It was a small step to creating a piece of art that honors all of the pets who were there for their humans during a year like none other.
It was another simple step to partner with NEADS World Class Service Dogs and donate a portion of the proceeds of online retails sales to this fantastic organization. In giving back to its community, McCrea’s has always worked with organizations near and dear to our employee’s hearts. NEADS is no exception. Kate’s aunt was a weekend caregiver for the non-profit, and she has seen firsthand what an impact a service dog can make in someone’s life.
We chatted with Lori Barrett, NEADS’ Creative Media Specialist, and Hannah Kump, the group’s Supervisor of Retail, Communications and Fundraising, to find out more about NEADS.
According to Barrett, NEADS focuses on providing assistance dogs to individuals with physical disabilities, to those who are who are deaf or who suffer severe hearing loss and to Veterans who suffer from combat-related post-traumatic stress.
NEADS, says Barrett, changes a lot of lives.
“Our dogs, once trained, go on to provide companionship and connection to their humans all while facilitating independence,” said Kump, who has seen the nonprofit’s work in action firsthand. “A recently matched vet with PTSD who couldn’t bear to leave his house attended a NEADS event with his new canine companion. He was able to take the stage and tell his story. That’s an amazing difference.”
Barrett recounts the story of Annie, a hearing-impaired grandmother and NEADS volunteer. “Annie’s dog enables her to continue to interact with her grandchildren by alerting her when they are speaking. She also helps Annie do everyday errands safely by being her ears. A recent outing had Annie dropping her car keys; something she couldn’t hear. And while this is a small thing for most people, for Annie it could have been devastating if it weren’t for her NEADS dog.”
NEADS graduates 50-60 dogs each year. Dogs are partnered based on aptitudes and skill sets, discerned after lengthy training. Volunteers play a big role in the training, taking in puppies and socializing them. Their job is to help the NEADS dogs feel comfortable in many different situations and around many people. From there, the dogs go through basic and obedience training, graduate on to specialized task training and, at two years, are matched with their partners.
In addition to volunteers, NEADS relies on prisoner inmates to train their dogs. Seven New England prisons train 90-95% of NEADS dogs. Under the guidance of NEADS staff, inmates can provide consistent training at a high level simply because of the amount of time they are able to devote to the dogs. This enables NEADS to place dogs faster with people in need.
Until recently, the majority of NEADS dogs were acquired from outside breeders. A new in-house program is changing all that. The nonprofit started purpose breeding its own dogs in 2019. Covid accelerated the program. And now the organization is raising funds for a much larger breeding center; one that produces dogs with just the right temperament and personalities to become canine companions – companions who were an integral part of daily life during Covid.
Like those of us at McCrea’s whose animals were of great comfort and support during the pandemic, NEADS saw the same thing.
“NEADS World Class Service Dogs are a vital part of our clients’ daily lives. With quarantine and social distancing, many clients were without the human assistance and support they might otherwise have had. NEADS Service Dogs were more than able to rise to the task,” explained Kump.
It is the life-transforming partnerships that develop between individuals when they are matched with their service dogs that McCrea’s is celebrating and why we have chosen to honor the organization with proceeds of Advent Calendar sales. We love that everyone who is touched by the NEADS program, benefits.