It takes a village to raise a child- But it took Red Sox Nation to help raise a Canine Companions for Independence Assistance Dog named Fenway!
For the last 5 years, Canine Companions for Independence, a national non-profit that provides highly trained assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities has slowly warmed their way into the hearts of Red Sox Nation.
Fenway the dog has led a charmed life! His name was chosen before he was even born, and a path to greatness has been his destiny! Today Fenway is a fully certified Canine Companions for Independence Assistance dog. He’s a 3 year old cross between a black lab and a golden retriever, who is making an amazing difference in the life of 9 year old Brendan Gillespie of Long Island, New York.
But you can say Fenway’s journey began many years before, back in 2001. And not on the hallowed grounds of Fenway Park, but on the left coast…San Diego to be exact. That’s when Padres President and CEO Larry Lucchino was first introduced to Canine
Companions for Independence, the nation’s oldest and largest assistance dog organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities all at no charge. Larry and his wife Stacey were moved by the amazing difference an assistance dog can make in the life of a person with disabilities. On command, these dogs can open and close doors, turn on and off light switches, and they can pick up dropped items as small as a dime and place them on the lap of a person using a wheelchair. Soon a dog named Nagal, who was a released from the program for medical reasons, was adopted by Larry and Stacey. Two years later, Nagal was joined by Vernell, another black lab/golden retriever cross, and the Lucchino’s appreciation and commitment to Canine Companions was cemented for the future.
Fast forward to 2011, and the wildly successful decade that the Lucchino’s have brought to the Red Sox, including two World Series trophies (soon to be three)! By this time, Stacey Lucchino serves on the Board of Directors of the Northeast Region of Canine Companions for Independence, and their hearts belong to a tiny lab/golden retriever mix with the magic name of Fenway. Volunteer Puppy Raisers are really the backbone of Canine Companions, and Fenway’s Puppy Raisers are Mary Ellen and Thomas Fydenkevez of Sunderland, Massachusetts. Fenway is in good hands. The Fydenkevez’s are experienced puppy raisers (currently raising their 4th Canine Companions puppy Dasher) and Fenway begins the journey to becoming an assistance dog by learning basic commands like sit, stay and shake. But one of the main tasks of a puppy raiser is to provide socialization for the dogs, and this is where the Lucchino’s and the Red Sox step up to the plate. Fenway becomes a second home to Fenway, with his own dog bed in the owner’s box, and regular greetings from players, managers and even fans chanted his name! Fenway also becomes the darling of Red Sox nation, with his own blog (fenwaythedog.com) that is soon the top blog in all of Major League Baseball! When Fenway turned 18 months old, it was time for him to say goodbye to the Fydenkevez’s, the Lucchino’s, and the legions of family and friends at Fenway Park. It was time to see if Fenway had what it takes to become a full-fledged working assistance dog. Fenway was returned to the Canine Companions Northeast Regional headquarters in New York, where he worked for six months with the organizations advanced instructors learning over 50 different commands. Fenway worked hard, and all his earlier training and socialization skills taught lovingly by the Lucchino’s and the Fydenkevez’s paid off. In August of 2013, Fenway was matched with 8 year old Brendan Gillespie of Massapequa, New York.
Brendan has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. His mother Jen says her son doesn’t usually play on sports teams, or go to camps…places where people his age usually meet friends. But Fenway has changed all of that. For his graduation ceremony after completing two weeks of Team Training with Fenway, the Boston Red Sox sent their ambassador Wally the Green Monster to New York to help hand out the graduation certificates to the class. (It must be noted here that Wally received a thunderous ovation despite being in a sea of Yankee fans!)
Brendan’s mom, Jen Gillespie says Fenway is helping her son open up socially, bridging the gap between Brendan and other children his age who might not understand his condition.
“Fenway is part of our family, now,” says Jen Gillespie. “He is helping Brendan be more confident, and improving his social interactions,” adding that Fenway is helping Brendan attend sporting events, something that was previously difficult for him to sit through. “This is truly an immeasurable gift. Fenway is a big part of our journey.” “I go everywhere with him,” Brendan adds.
In 2011, as plans for the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park started shaping up, the Red Sox included Canine Companions as one of their 100 Acts of Kindness. A unique partnership was formed with the Red Sox Foundation, Canine Companions for Independence, Eukanuba, and the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts. Eukanuba donated healthy dog treats that were sold by the Girl Scouts at every home game in a special 100th Anniversary package. The campaign was based around a 10 year old Canine Companions graduate named Lillian Ellmore of Lexington, Massachusetts, who was featured on billboards around the metro Boston area. Lillian was embraced by Sox players and fans alike, and took the field with her assistance dog Frontier to help throw out the first pitch at the 100th anniversary game.
Throughout their 102 year history, volumes have been written about the Boston Red Sox heroic exploits on the playing field. But in a quiet home in Massapequa, New York, an amazing dog named Fenway is equally heroic to a nine year old boy.
Canine Companions for Independence is the largest non-profit provider of trained assistance dogs with five regional training centers across the country. Established in 1975, Canine Companions provides highly trained assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities and is recognized worldwide for the excellence of its dogs, and quality and longevity of the matches it makes between dogs and people. There is no charge for the dog, its training and on-going follow-up services. For more information, visit cci.org or call 1-800-572-BARK.