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Bedford Nonprofit Helps Autistic Children With Service Dogs

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BluePath Service Dogs founders, from left, Caroline McCabe-Sandler, Dr. Jody Sandler and Michelle Brier. The organization helps to raise, train and match Labradors and Golden Retrievers to pair with autistic children.

An organization that has been slowly changing the lives of children with autism and their families is celebrating seven years this week with a special event at the Bedford Playhouse.

BluePath Service Dogs, which trains and provides service dogs to assist children on the spectrum, is holding the event on Wednesday evening that includes a screening of a short film, “Hope in a Blue Vest,” followed by a panel discussion and wine reception.

“(The film) tells the story of a dog’s journey and all the different people who take part along the way,” said Michelle Brier, vice president of marketing and development and one of the co-founders of BluePath. “I think I’ve watched it a thousand times and I still get teary at the end of it.

Since it was established, BluePath has placed 41 dogs with children and has five facility therapy dogs, including one at West Patent Elementary School in Bedford.

“We started slow but I’m proud of what we’ve done,” Brier said.

The idea behind autism service dogs is to prevent children who are on the spectrum from wandering off from their parents or another adult that they may be with, which they are sometimes prone to do, Brier said. Children from five to 11 years old are eligible to be paired because they are still small enough to be guided by the dog.

Similar to other types of service dogs, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers or a cross between the two, are the best breeds to train and prepare, she said.

There is an extensive two-year process from the time a dog is a puppy before they are ready to be placed in a home, Brier said. At about eight weeks old, they are puppy raised by volunteers. Three Town of Bedford police officers are among those who help BluePath prepare them for training.

When they are about 18 months old, a dog will begin formal training. About six to 12 months later a dog is typically ready to be placed in a home, Brier said.

Wednesday’s evening’s panel discussion will feature Brier, Caroline McCabe-Sandler, a dog trainer and one of the two other BluePath founders; Tony Award-winning producer and Bedford Playhouse Advisory Board member Ken Marsolais, who created “Hope in a Blue Vest”; service dog recipient Kate Petersen; facility dog recipient and West Patent Elementary School Principal Judy Brewster; and volunteer puppy raiser and Bedford Police Sgt. Mark Montanaro.

On average, a dog will work until they are about 10 to 12 years old. Once retired, they continue to live with the family.

“It’s really about raising awareness for the work that we do and celebrating essentially seven years of BluePath,” Brier said of this week’s event. “The organization is still young in the scheme of the nonprofit world. We’ve had so much support from Bedford and Westchester and so it’s an opportunity for us to be able to celebrate with some of the people that have been connected to our mission and hopefully introduce some new people to it as well.”

Wednesday’s program at the Bedford Playhouse will run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 (with a $1.50 service fee) and can be purchased online at

For more information about BluePath Service Dogs, visit



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