I think people that are kind of stand-offish and scared of disabled kids, it'll break that barrier. They'll feel more comfortable to come up and say hi and become friends. —Brenda Veldevere
SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah boy with a degenerative disease is one of few Americans to receive a rare medical aid that could improve his quality of life: a dog.
It was a free gift worth several thousands of dollars, and Carter Veldevere considers it an early birthday present.
"I'm really excited about it," he said. "This dog will help me a lot."
The emotions are a little difficult to express, but there's no doubt 10-year-old Carter is looking forward to getting his own service dog.
Carter has spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative medical condition. With the help of Smith's Food, Milk Bone, and the nonprofit Canine Assistants, he'll soon have a new four-legged friend to help him with everyday functions and be more independent like other kids his age, with things like opening doors and picking things up.
"I have a hard time pushing stuff," he said.
Canine Assistants trains 120 service dogs a year. There are at least 2,000 people on the waiting list, hoping to receive a dog. Training and care for an animal costs about $20,000. Carter will meet his 2-year-old puppy next August at a training camp in Georgia and spend two weeks bonding with it before they come home together. But with such a conspicuous medical aid comes lots of attention.
"It's kind of hard because they look at me and think, like, ‘You're different,' and I can understand that," Carter said. "But I'm just a normal kid."
That's where Lynn Engum comes in. She travels the country to teach people about service dogs and how they benefit people like Carter.
Brenda Veldevere thinks that despite the extra attention, it will actually be better for her son.
"I think people that are kind of stand-offish and scared of disabled kids, it'll break that barrier," she said. "They'll feel more comfortable to come up and say hi and become friends."
The law allows service dogs to go anywhere with their owners except certain places in hospitals.