The work that Tom and Michele Meli do through their foundation Mickey’s Kids has always been in support of their love for children – Their love for dogs also plays a big role. In fact the foundation was named for their dog Mickey after he passed away.
Now the Hasbrouck Heights couple is putting its support into an organization that most definitely supports children and does so with the devoted love and attention of some very special dogs.
Mickey’s Kids most recent annual gala, Dancing Under the Stars, raised $32,000 for Canine Assistants, an organization that raises and trains service dogs for children with disabilities such as Muscular Dystrophy and Multiple Scleroris. Dogs are also trained as alert dogs to assist with those with epilepsy. The dogs help disabled adults as well but the organization’s main focus is kids, Meli said.
“We have fallen in love with these people,” said Tom Meli. “It’s a match made in heaven for us.”
On Wednesday, April 27, Mickey’s Kids will host a presentation and reception at Ill Villagio in Carlstadt for Danny a young boy with muscular dystrophy who will soon receive a dog as a result of the Melis’ support of Canine Assistants.
Meli said these dogs are amazing. They do everything for these kids from picking things up to opening refrigerator doors to warning of any kind of dangers. The dogs are even trained to call 911, Meli said. Phones with a special button are installed in a recipients home which the dog will hit if alerted to danger.
“They are pretty remarkable animals,” Meli said adding that they obey 97 commands.
Canine Assistants, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia, started in 1991 by Jennifer Arnold who has MS. They also raise alert service dogs for children with epilepsy or juvenile diabetes. The dogs are trained to recognize the early signs of a seizure and knows how to immediately alert the parents. Meli told of Lindsey a young girl with epilepsy whose dog Blaze has the ability to even recognize when she has a temperature spike which is a possible sign of an oncoming seizure. Since Blaze has been in this youngster’s life she hasn’t a seizure yet, Meli said.
Young Danny won’t receive his dog the night of the April 27 reception. Instead he will soon after go to Atlanta, Georgia to attend a graduation for the dogs. The extra special thing about the whole process, Meli said, is that the children don’t pick the dogs, the dogs pick them. They put the children into a room and release the dogs and see who the dogs just naturally go to. “It’s really something,” Meli said and he encourages anyone to visit the Canine Assistants web site to see for oneself.
It costs $25,000 to sponsor one of these dogs, Meli said explaining that the amount supports everything from raising and training the dog, to providing for it its whole life including veterinarian bills.
Aside from raising funds through Mickey’s Kids foundation, the Melis also want to raise awareness for Canine Assistants as the tales from parents whose children have been placed with dogs are amazing. “It’s totally changed their lives,” Meli said. In Lindsey’s case, her parents can now leave the room without having to worry continuously about her seizures. The dogs stay with the children all the time and as Meli pointed the fortunate thing for people in New Jersey is that the laws here allow service dogs to pretty much be welcomed into any establishment, unlike some states.
There is a five to seven year waiting list for these dogs. The dogs do not come from shelters they are raised and Meli explained this is to ensure that the dogs are healthy and can serve as a youngster’s companion into his or her late teens or early adult life. Canine Assistants raises golden or labrador retrievers or a mix of both.
Founded five years ago, Mickey’s Kids also supports the Audrey Hepburn’s Childrens House of Hackensack University Medical Center. As Michele Meli has been a teacher for 20 years they had been longtime supporters of Audrey Hepburn house through her school. They decided to start their own foundation so they could direct monies towards organizations they strongly believed in. The foundation is based in Heights and some of their board members are borough residents such as Ray Vorisek and Kim Cosimano Loos. Other board of directors members are Tom Culouris, Angela Lenzo, Linda Payonzeck and Barbara Pontilena.