Calya Lemire, 22, is a bright, articulate, candid young woman from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Despite her physical disabilities—Lemire suffers from congenital Muscular Dystrophy—she aspires to be a child psychologist and refuses to allow her struggles get in the way.
"It's harder to do things on my own—maintain a daily routine," she said.
On Wednesday night, Lemire graduated from an intensive two-week training program through the local organization ECAD—Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities—receiving her first-ever service dog, Billie.
"It's been great," she said. "He warmed to me from the beginning."
Since Lemire has limited use of her arms, she has been working with Billie, training him to retrieve items for her so that "doesn't have to bug other people every minute of the day."
But for Lemire, one of Billie's most important tasks is to get help if her ventilator goes off.
"In the past, I had no system to alert someone if that happened," she said.
Lemire found ECAD online when she was looking up organizations that pair people with disabilities with specially-trained dogs.
"Billie was already well-trained when we first started working together two weeks ago," she said. "They do a great job."
ECAD partners with local Special Act schools, like in Dobbs Ferry and in Hastings, teaching the students to train the service dogs—which are later paired with or individuals with other mental or physical impairments.
Lemire said that her inability to make physical contact with Billie made it a little more difficult for them to bond in the beginning, but "he can respond to verbal cues amazingly well," she said.
Lemire is currently taking online classes to work toward her Masters Degree in Child Psychology; she hopes one day to work with kids and teenagers with disabilities.
Lemire's excited to head home to New England with Billie and, hopefully, a life with more independence and security.
"It will be nice knowing that I'll have him with me all the time," she said.
On Wednesday night, ECAD graduated four individuals receiving dogs and five service dog instructors.
Learn more about ECAD here.