Service dog fund-raiser fetches major donations; New education facility announced

It was a veritable puppy parade this past weekend in Greenwich as Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD)’s annual Denim Heels Boots Tails fund-raiser brought in approximately $150,000. Above, Nicole Spadaro spends some quality time with a new puppy who has yet to be named.  — John Ferris Robben photo

It was a veritable puppy parade this past weekend in Greenwich as Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD)’s annual Denim Heels Boots Tails fund-raiser brought in approximately $150,000. Above, Nicole Spadaro spends some quality time with a new puppy who has yet to be named.
— John Ferris Robben photo

A fiesta for four-legged friends fetched approximately $150,000 for Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD) Saturday night at the organization’s annual Denim Heels Boots Tails fund-raiser held at the home of town residents Jennifer and Daniel Gressel.

The money raised at the event increased by a staggering $50,000 from last year and the funds will now be used to help to carry out ECAD’s mission of educating and placing service dogs with disabled individuals.

At the completion of their two-year training, ECAD’s service dogs are able to obey more than 80 commands,, performing tasks such as opening doors, pulling wheelchairs and retrieving items for people with any number of disabilities including autism, heart conditions and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Such specialized training costs approximately $25,000 per dog, prompting the weekend fund-raiser for the nonprofit organization, which was established by Dale and Lu Picard in 1995.

According to Patricia Robert, public relations coordinator for ECAD, Saturday’s beautiful weather and worthy cause attracted approximately 150 people to the fund-raiser, where an assortment of clients, board members and supporters gathered. Event highlights included the debut of a one-month-old litter of ECAD puppies, sights from the Gressels’ waterfront location that includes a clear view of Manhattan and a Zen Garden, and former MTV VJ Mark Goodman, one of the channel’s original personalities, serving as emcee and a live auction.

With items such as dinner for four at Le Bernadin, a champagne lunch for 20 at Saks Fifth Avenue with a fashion and beauty consultant, a seven day-stay at the Four Seasons in Costa Rica, a one-of-a-kind gold, pearl and citrine pendant and chain from Betteridge’s Estate Collection, and the right to name an ECAD service dog all up for grabs, the auction was a huge success, Ms. Robert said.

In fact, Craig Pintoff, senior vice president of human resources for United Rentals, whose headquarters are based in town, gave $25,000 during the auction — the approximate cost to train one service dog — and he wasn’t the only one to make such a generous donation, Ms. Robert said. Peter and Jillian Rosten also made a $25,000 donation, earning them the right to name an ECAD dog, and plenty of other event attendees made major contributions.

Perhaps the most momentous part of the evening, however, was the announcement of ECAD’s capital campaign, which aims to raise enough money to build a new canine training facility, Ms. Robert said. The undertaking has been named the “Until There Is A Cure, There’s A Dog” Campaign, and beginning this year, ECAD will be raising $7 million to build the newest, most state-of-the-art canine education facility in the country.

The need to expand the organization’s facilities is ever growing. ECAD currently has around 60 service dogs per year in various stages of educational development for clients with diverse disabilities. However, the waiting list continues to grow, and the organization’s capabilities are limited by the space and staffing options they have. With a new facility, ECAD would have the ability to educate twice as many dogs per year, expand all of its programs, teach more trainers to become professionals and add to the population of people who can supply the highest quality service dogs and educate the public about the benefits of service dogs and the need to help provide them to people with approximately 50 different kinds of disabilities.

The ECADemy Program, which teaches at-risk children and teens with a variety of emotional problems how to provide the two-year training of ECAD’s service dogs, will continue to operate at the various alternative schools it has throughout Connecticut and lower New York despite the addition of a new training facility, Ms. Robert said.

Fortunately the $7 million needed to build the facility is well on its way with $2 million already collected as a result of donations from United Rentals and longtime ECAD supporter Pat Lanza, she added.

In fact, the loyal philanthropist was honored with the Open Doors award, which recognizes an outstanding supporter who believes in and helps foster ECAD’s mission, at the Denim Heels Boots Tails event. Ms. Lanza, along with the Lanza Family Foundation, have been financial supporters of ECAD’s programs for many years, and this year committed their largest pledge to-date in support of the new education facility.

p1-ECAD-B-6-6United Rentals also earned itself an accolade Saturday night as the first recipient of the “U.R. Healing” award, named in the company’s honor for its support of veterans and continued generosity to ECAD’s Project HEAL Program, which places service dogs with veterans.

It seems anyone who has ever benefited from ECAD’s services has a unique and heart-warming story, Ms. Robert said, including five-year-old Chase Britton, whose family attended Saturday’s fund-raiser.

Chase was born without a cerebellum, which is the balance and coordination center of the brain, and could greatly benefit from an ECAD dog who could help him with balance, mobility and lessen his anxiety, she said. The boy has been confined to a wheelchair since he was 18 months old, and the dog would allow him not only to get back on his feet but to attend kindergarten in the fall.

And while the Britton family has been hard at work trying to raise the $8,500 needed for the dog, which doesn’t include travel or living expenses for the two-week training the animal would need, they had not reached their goal as of Saturday evening. Fortunately, the ECAD event raised enough money to pay for the remainder of the funds needed to acquire Chase’s dog, Ms. Robert said.

ECAD’s mission is to train and place assistance dogs to help people with disabilities gain independence and mobility. For more information visit


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