The Pastor family can’t believe how their service dog, Callie, has changed their life.
She has especially helped 12-year-old Bryson, who has mitochondrial disease, autism and post traumatic stress disorder, be calm, ease his fears and develop social skills.
“Bryson was always very fearful and he needed to calm down before puberty,” said Bryson’s mother, Lanna Pastor. “I knew he loved two things in this world: music and dogs. As soon as we got Callie, he knew she was here to keep him safe.”
The Madison Township family worked with trainer Rachel Friedman of A Better Pet LLC, to have Callie be a part of their family.
Pastor said she knew she and her husband, Evan, would have a service dog one day and heavily researched the options in hopes it would help her family.
Friedman flew to California to hand-pick Callie, a mix of English and American Golden Retriever, as a puppy from a breeder, and she is receiving training once a week to be a service dog.
The puppy was raised with a focus on sounds that would be common to the family’s lifestyle, and she was well acclimated to interacting with large and small amounts of people at a time.
“Friedman was very adamant that this is a family service dog, and she really is,” she said.
“She does something for every one of us.”
Owen, 10, is the official family trainer of Callie, teaching her tricks.
The dog will also be learning a new command called “safe,” where Callie will lean into Bryson to let him know he is safe.
Friedman also has been working with Bryson to teach him how to play with Callie, and she is having him read books to the dog.
“When you have a child with autism and (Owen) has Asperger syndrome … you can get negative,” Pastor said. “As soon as Callie came into the home, our entire world is about something positive and it changed the whole dynamic. It’s all about her now, which is a good thing.”
The family received Callie in June 2014, and things began to change for the better.
“Bryson wouldn’t be 10 feet from me, he was always on me and he wouldn’t even go into rooms alone in our house,” she said. “But now with Callie, he takes her leash, they go all over the house and he is free. It is such a relief.”
Pastor recalls Bryson going on his own to a park in their neighborhood last year with Callie, which was something he would have never done before.
Going places in public was almost impossible for the family because Bryson would have “meltdowns,” but now his behavior has gotten much better and the family can go in public without any problems, she said.
“We would just stay in our house, and this would go on for years,” Pastor said. “With Callie, we went on vacation, we went camping and we feel the sky is the limit.”
Callie has helped Bryson improve academically, allowing him to go from a second grade reading and math level to a fourth grade reading level and third grade math level in only a few months. He also is in class through ECOT, an online kindergarten through 12th grade public school, for a whole day, compared to only a half day in the past.
“That is so big,” she said. “Now he sits with Callie next to him, and he listens and learns, instead of constant worrying.”
Bryson has made strides in developing social skills, as Pastor said he is focused on having people interact with him and his dog.
“He is willing to try new things now,” she said. “Where as before he couldn’t believe he could do it, and we now all want to know what can he do.”
Bryson said Callie has made his life better.
“She helps me when I’m crying or upset,” he said. “If I didn’t have her I would have meltdowns and I would be throwing a fit.”
Callie comforts everyone in the Pastor home and even the public, especially when people are sick, nervous and anxious.
“People say our family has changed because of her,” she said.
Owen said his family’s life is different “in every way possible.”
Training has been costly for the family, amounting to about $15,000.
Pastor raised about $12,000 through loans, fundraising and generous support from family and friends, but she said she is looking for support from the community to help her family.
A Buddy For Bryson Dine to Donate, sponsored by S.U.C.C.E.S.S. for Autism, will be held at Applebee’s in Mentor, 9174 Mentor Ave. from noon to 9 p.m. on March 4.
By showing a special flier, 15 percent of each patron’s check will be donated to the trainer to pay for training for Callie.
People can also make a donation through a fund set up with the Deepwood Foundation.
Donations can be sent to Deepwood Foundation, 8121 Deepwood Blvd., Mentor, OH 44060. Include reference to “Dog Training for Bryson.”