By CAROLINE MURRAY
BROADALBIN -- Dogs are known as man's best friend -- loyal, caring and protective -- it is easy to see how they earned the nickname.
One service dog in particular is befriending 14-year-old Donnie Ericksen before he starts at the Broadalbin-Perth High School next month.
Meet Ericksen, a lover of Pokemon, sports, hunting with his grandfather and computers. Donnie was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome when he was 3-years-old, and has difficulty with social interactions, loud noises and managing his emotions.
Upon entering high school this year, his mother Gloria Ericksen signed him up to acquire a service dog named Reba. She is a one-year-old Labradoodle who is training specifically for Donnie's needs.
With permission from the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District administration, Gloria Ericksen said they were able to secure Reba for the next four years. Reba will also become the Ericksen's household pet and will stick by Donnie's side after graduation, until he is independent enough to travel places on his own.
The service and training comes with a steep price tag of $15,000, and Gloria Ericksen is holding a 5K fundraiser walk Saturday at the high school's nature trails in order to raise money for the dog.
"She will be a behavioral interrupter," Ericksen said Monday.
"Helping him to not single himself out in a negative way. When he has outbursts it is scary for everybody in the room. If we can nip that in the bud and stop it before it starts that would be the optimum," she added.
Reba will be the first service dog allowed at Broadalbin-Perth Central School District.
Donnie has already met Reba, and his mom said the service dog will make a difference in his life. With just a few interactions, Reba can already detect when he is upset and distract him from his abrupt emotions.
She will also serve as a form of comfort for Donnie, when he enters high school for the first time.
His brother, David, is entering his senior year, and believes having a service dog is a smart idea for Donnie.
The goal is for Reba to help Donnie adapt to unexpected situations and stop a situation from escalating before he breaks down. Gloria Ericksen said Reba will help control Donnie during an outburst, long enough for an adult to intervene.
"We just need to help him with these outbursts and help him really deal with unexpected situations and loud noises, is the biggest thing," Gloria Ericksen said.
Gloria Ericksen said she first thought about a service dog for Donnie, when a woman overheard her phone conversation about one of his outbursts.
The woman, who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, had a service dog and told Gloria Ericksen about her positive experience working with the animal.
Gloria Ericksen began searching for the perfect match back in January. After one canine company fell through, Ericksen came across specialized dog trainer Cathy Burke, with a sweet Labradoodle named Reba.
Reba and Burke will visit Donnie this weekend, and will be present for the nature walk Saturday. Ericksen said the service dog will officially move into the household before school starts.
Donnie said he enjoys working with Reba because she is well-trained. Also, Donnie likes to have down-time with Reba and already bought her toys to play with.
"She takes her work seriously," Donnie said. "But then she is all chipper."
Health insurance does not cover the cost of the dog, so, Gloria Ericksen thought of the idea for a 5K walk fundraiser.
The fundraiser kicks off at 8 a.m. with registration and a free breakfast. The walk begins at 9 a.m. Sponsors are welcome, and participants will be awarded with different gifts depending on how much money they raise. Gloria Ericksen said not everybody has to be a sponsor; those looking to walk are asked to pay $20.
Ericksen is also fundraising online at www.indiegogo.com.
She said she has to raise the whole $15,000, but will be happy with what they raise on Saturday.