A boy’s best friend: Ser­vice dog fills the bill

The Republican Herald - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOHN E. USALIS STAFF WRITER

SHENAN­DOAH — Sev­enyear-old Dariel Nunez, of Shenan­doah, re­cently met his new “best friend for­ever” in what is hoped will be­come a bond be­tween a boy and his dog like Char­lie Brown and Snoopy.

Dariel’s new BFF is a cer­ti­fied ser­vice dog named “Kluck,” a 13-month-old golden re­triever that will pro­vide com­pan­ion­ship, as­sis­tance and pro­tec­tion for a boy who has dealt with med­i­cal is­sues since birth.

Kluck made his first visit to St. Joseph’s Center for Spe­cial Learn­ing last Thurs­day. He was brought to the school by Dariel’s mother, Jansell Nunez, and sis­ter, Jarielys, to meet up with Dariel and his day­time nurse, Amanda Ulicny, who ar­rived ear­lier when the school opened. Un­til a han­dler is found, Kluck will stay at home when Dariel goes to the school.

The search for a ser­vice dog for Dariel be­gan four years ago be­cause of a his­tory of seizures com­bined with him not be­ing able to ver­bally tell oth­ers there is a prob­lem. His seizures have di­min­ished over time, but they still oc­cur oc­ca­sion­ally, and an incident with Dariel within the past year in­di­cated the need for a ser­vice dog.

When Dariel was born, the prog­no­sis was not good due to his med­i­cal prob­lems, which in­cluded strug­gling to breathe, and the doc­tors could not find a way to help him. At the time, his di­ag­no­sis was “fail­ure to thrive” and he was sent home from the hospi­tal and a hospice was set up.

Jansell took Dariel to Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal of Philadel­phia for a sec­ond opin­ion. While at CHOP, doc­tors were able to di­ag­nose Dariel with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent, yet re­lated, dis­or­ders. Pri­mar­ily, Dariel was di­ag­nosed with Chro­mo­some 21Q 22.12q22.3 mi­crodele­tion, a miss­ing chro­mo­some that is ex­tremely rare.

Dariel was also di­ag­nosed with ven­tric­u­lar sep­tal de­fect, (a mus­cu­lar dis­or­der), fac­tor VII

de­fi­ciency (a blood dis­or­der), a feed­ing dis­or­der, a seizure dis­or­der and Hy­pospa­dia (a uri­nary dis­or­der). He was later di­ag­nosed with autism. He re­quires full-time care as he is un­able to ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cate, needs as­sis­tance with ev­ery­day tasks, and can be in­con­solable at times.

De­spite his med­i­cal is­sues and the ear­lier prog­no­sis, Dariel is a bless­ing to his fam­ily, who take each day one at a time and show their love for him.

And while Dariel has shown im­prove­ments over the years, the ser­vice dog is needed so that when Dariel would have a seizure or other prob­lem, the ser­vice dog would be trained to know some­thing is wrong and alert some­one in the home.

In 2014, a lo­cal fam­ily who had a ser­vice dog for their child pro­vided in­for­ma­tion to the Nunez fam­ily about 4 Paws for Abil­ity, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that en­riches lives of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties by train­ing and plac­ing ser­vice dogs.

Jansell ap­plied for a ser­vice dog and it was ac­cepted by 4 Paws for Abil­ity. Based on the ap­pli­ca­tion, the ser­vice dog would be trained for be­hav­ior dis­rup­tion (touch­ing, nudg­ing and snug­gling) when Dariel is up­set, as­sist with sta­bil­ity for Dariel when walk­ing, teth­er­ing dur­ing walks to pre­vent Dariel from wan­der­ing off, track­ing in the event Dariel would get lost and alert­ing of an im­pend­ing seizure. The ser­vice dog can also help Dariel with so­cial in­ter­ac­tion skills when he is out in public.

The ac­cep­tance for Dariel to get a cer­ti­fied ser­vice dog was only the first step. The cost of a dog is about $14,000, plus costs for trav­el­ing for the train­ing pe­riod.

Af­ter learn­ing a dog was avail­able, Jansell be­gan to pre­pare for the trip to 4 Paws in Xe­nia, Ohio, with much of the fam­ily and Ulicny stay­ing for a two-week train­ing pe­riod that would be the fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion on whether Dariel and Kluck would go home to­gether.

“It was 14 days straight from 9:30 to 4, with an hour lunch for the fam­i­lies,” Ulicny said while al­ways keep­ing an eye on Dariel in the class­room that had other stu­dents and their aides. “They did split us into two dif­fer­ent classes. They in­cluded groom­ing an an­i­mal, train­ing, med­i­cal needs and about re­port­ing back to 4 Paws.”

The classes were July 2 to 13, in­clud­ing week­ends and hol­i­day, and each class builds on ma­te­rial from the pre­vi­ous day, ac­cord­ing to a text mes­sage from 4 Paws to Jansell. In­struc­tions stated that it was re­quired to have two adults (at least one a le­gal guardian) and the child to take part in classes.

Af­ter the first day, Ulicny said Kluck went with the fam­ily to the ho­tel, which had 13 fam­i­lies stay­ing in it.

“Train­ing was crazy,” Jansell said. “You don’t have that much time in two weeks, but train­ing was amaz­ing. Kluck has com­pletely changed our lives. It is an eye-opener when you see the dog and the im­pact of them to­gether. They were meant for each other. He is a very good dog.”

The im­por­tance of hav­ing the ser­vice dog be­came very ev­i­dent last Novem­ber.

“Dariel fell down the stairs and we al­most lost him,” Jansell said.

Jansell showed a leash for Kluck that con­nects him with Dariel when they go away from the house.

“When you open a door, Dariel flies. Hav­ing Kluck at­tached to him, it does not let Dariel do what­ever he wants,” Jansell said. “When Dariel be­gins hit­ting his head, Kluck im­me­di­ately goes to Dariel’s foot to try to dis­tract Dariel. We had to wait four years, but it is the right match.”

The wait was mainly for an avail­able dog, not fundrais­ing. A story about Dariel was pub­lished in The Repub­li­can-Her­ald in Au­gust 2014, and Jansell said the $14,000 was raised in eight months.

“Then we went on the wait­ing list be­cause Kluck is a track­ing dog, so that if Dariel takes off and no­body re­al­izes it, he can find wher­ever Dariel is hid­ing. If we were look­ing for a reg­u­lar be­hav­ior dog, it would have been faster, but the wait­ing list is longer for a track­ing dog.”

Kluck wears a spe­cial har­ness and leash when work­ing as a ser­vice dog, but when re­moved, Kluck be­comes a nor­mal dog.

“Once we put on the har­ness and soft leash, he knows he’s on the job,” Jansell said.

Jansell said there was a re­cent trip to Lo­cust Lake State Park to con­tinue train­ing that had Dariel hid­den with Jarielys while Jansell dis­tracted Kluck.

“Kluck did not know where Dariel was, and I told him, ‘Find your boy,’ ” Jansell said. “He ran and quickly found his boy. He gets so ex­cited when he sees his boy. In the house, he’s al­ways with Dariel. Even when he’s not on the job. We’re so lucky to have that bond. Not ev­ery­body has the bond be­tween dog and child so quickly. When Kluck sees Dariel mov­ing his feet, he knows Dariel’s get­ting anx­ious, so he tries to calm Dariel down.”

One of the next steps is tak­ing Kluck and Dariel to St. Teresa of Cal­cutta Ro­man Catholic Church in Ma­hanoy City, where the fam­ily at­tends Mass. Jansell plans to speak to the pas­tor, the Rev. Kevin Gal­lagher, about first bring­ing Kluck into the church when it is empty so he can be­come fa­mil­iar with sur­round­ings.

“Be­ing in church with so many peo­ple and some­times it’s so loud, Dariel does not do so well. I’m hop­ing I can start go­ing to Mass more fre­quently and have Dariel there,” she said.

The Nunez house­hold has two cats, and there has not been fe­lineca­nine ten­sions.

“I’m hop­ing they get along. Now, they’re test­ing the waters,” Jansell said.

An­other pos­i­tive of par­tic­i­pat­ing in train­ing was be­ing with other fam­i­lies deal­ing with sim­i­lar is­sues.

“It was re­ally nice to be with other fam­i­lies and be nor­mal,” Jansell said. “Peo­ple don’t un­der­stand what it’s like hav­ing a spe­cial-needs son. With his be­hav­ior, nor­mal peo­ple will look at you and you try to iso­late your­self. Af­ter two weeks with the other fam­i­lies, it was like I was nor­mal. My son’s be­hav­ior is nor­mal. Ev­ery­body was say­ing that ‘You’re do­ing your job. You’re do­ing good, Jansell.’ I did not see it be­cause I was so afraid, and now be­ing 14 days with 17 fam­i­lies, it was amaz­ing.”

There was much train­ing for Kluck be­fore meet­ing Dariel for the first time. Videos were sent by Jansell to 4 Paws to be used in Kluck’s train­ing in learn­ing Dariel’s ap­pear­ance and be­hav­iors. The train­ers would act out the be­hav­iors and teach Kluck how to re­spond. When Kluck met Dariel for the first time, he knew who “his boy” was right away.

“When they first met, Dariel was in shock at first, but Kluck re­ac­tion was, ‘This is him,’ ” Jansell said.

Pho­tos posted on Face­book showed Dariel and Kluck quickly be­came close, even sleep­ing to­gether.

To learn more about 4 Paws, go to www.4PawsForA­bil­ity.org. To see pho­tos and videos of the train­ing pe­riod in Ohio, go to the 4 Paws for Dariel page on Face­book.

DAVID MCKE­OWN / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Jansell Nunez holds her son, Dariel Nunez, as they sit with his new ser­vice dog, Kluck, on Thurs­day at St. Joseph’s Center for Spe­cial Learn­ing, Pottsville.

Dariel Nunez’s new ser­vice dog, Kluck, lays at St. Joseph’s Center for Spe­cial Learn­ing.

DAVID MCKE­OWN / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Jansell Nunez holds her son, Dariel Nunez, as they sit with his new ser­vice dog, Kluck, on Thurs­day at St. Joseph’s Center for Spe­cial Learn­ing, Pottsville.

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