Service dog comes home

MUNCIE — Christopher Burrows got the best possible treat last Halloween.

That’s the day he and his mother, Claudia Burrows, brought home Stitch, the service dog they’d been working toward for the past year.

Claudia has ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, while Christopher has autism and other medical problems.

The family and their friends worked to raise funds to pay for the dog’s training, and then to allow Christopher and his mother to travel to Ohio in October to pick the dog up and get a little training themselves.

“We can’t imagine life without Stitch,” Claudia Burrows wrote in an e-mail. “He is a wonderful companion to us and he’s very nurturing of Christopher. Christopher is definitely ‘Stitch’s Boy’!”

Named by Christopher after one of the title characters in the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch, the 1-year-old black Labrador retriever mix was rescued from a pound and partially trained in the Ohio prison system before coming home with the Burrowses.

Stitch helps Claudia and Christopher by, among other tasks, pulling a strap to open doors, pushing buttons or just standing still to help Claudia keep her balance when she’s not in her wheelchair. Beyond that, the dog also provides comfort and behavioral intervention for Christopher, nuzzling him or laying his head in Christopher’s lap or even straddling the boy’s legs to help calm him. Stitch is also trained to “tether” to Christopher to keep him from wandering away in places like store checkouts, and is learning to track him in case Christopher wanders away from home.

Since coming home, Stitch has grown to “90-plus pounds of pure muscle,” Claudia reported. Sleeping with Christopher, Stitch takes up two-thirds of the full-sized bed, she added: “We’re happy that Stitch is large, though, because his size and strength make him more helpful for a growing boy and a mom who is losing her strength.”

Christopher has had a good year health-wise, and has taken to homeschooling, which allows him one-on-one attention and no losing school time due to illness. The presence of a dog, “a kid-magnet,” has helped him socially, as well.

Claudia, meanwhile, has dealt with the slow progression of her illness with its related pains and difficulties, on top of treatments for an unrelated immune deficiency. Last month, she was one of 31 ALS patients profiled in the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s “Anyone’s Life Story” national campaign for ALS Awareness Month.

“I’m proud and honored to have been chosen to share my story through the MDA’s awareness campaign,” Burrows said. “ALS is considered an ‘orphan disease,’ meaning that not ‘enough’ people have it at any one time to make it profitable for drug companies to work on finding a treatment or cure. The more people become aware of what ALS ‘looks like’ and what dramatic effects it has on patients and their families, the more organizations like MDA ( ) or ALS-TDI (ALS Therapy Development Institute, will get the support they need to help find a cure!”

Copyright ©2009 The Star Press