Grace and Hope Pastor Needs Help to Get a Service Dog

Press release

The Reverend Karen Heavey, a resident of Danbury and senior pastor at Grace and Hope Community Center, needs a service dog to help her continue her work as a minister and the volunteer director of Twin Rivers Interfaith Food Pantry in Franklin. She has established a fund for this purpose and is asking for help from her community and neighbors.

Karen did not always need a service dog but she does now, for both visible and invisible disabilities. In 2013 she became horribly ill with a blood infection and was put into a lengthy medical coma before she regained consciousness. After months of rehabilitation, she was left paralyzed on her right side. Now she uses a brace and a cane. Her invisible disabilities are PTSD, bi-polar, and major anxiety disorders.

Nevertheless, Karen has maintained her ministry and her concern for others, even as she is frightened with every step that she takes. Falls are a very common occurrence in her life, and she can no longer drive a car. Her medical team at Dartmouth Hitchcock in Lebanon were the ones who suggested that she apply for a service dog.

Because she was considered too short, Karen was turned down immediately by several organizations. Then she found Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD), a Connecticut not-for-profit that has a national reputation for placing exceptionally well -trained service dogs with people who have special or unusual requirements and multiple disabilities and/or disorders.

ECAD trains its dogs, Golden Retrievers and Labs, to respond to 89 commands, including bracing, picking up dropped objects, loading and unloading the laundry, and to sense changes in moods. When paired, the instructors customize the commands so that the dog is a perfect match for its person. The service dog will even remind its person to take their medication.

Karen applied to ECAD and was invited by its co-founder and head instructor, Lu Picard, to come to its campus in Torrington, Connecticut, for an interview. There she was introduced to several Service Dogs in Training while Picard and other instructors observed, Karen interacted with the dogs.

One, a Golden Retriever, not only helped her physically by walking alongside, but also picked up on Karen’s anxiety and leaned gently against her, giving her confidence that she was not alone.

Karen’s application was accepted by ECAD, and in 15 to 18 months, she will go to Torrington for a two-week Team Training session where she and the dog selected for her will work to fine-tune their partnership. In order to take this step, Karen needs help in raising funds necessary to cover the costs relating to the service dog with whom she will be paired.

The $25,000. needed covers the 1,500 hours of training that each ECAD service dog receives in order to be certified, two weeks of lodging at ECAD’s campus where Karen will learn to work with her Service Dog, and lifetime follow-up care for Karen and her canine partner. This care includes additional training if Karen’s disabilities are progressive and the service dog needs to learn more commands and skills.

As a non-profit that has regularly received the highest rating from Charity Navigator, ECAD relies on grants and donations for its existence.

In order to raise this funding, Karen needs the support of her community. She wants to continue her ministry, to help people, and to serve the many who need food from the pantry she runs three days a week.

A service dog by her side will give her the independence and confidence she needs to continue her life by going with her during church services, visitations, and work at the pantry. The service dog will brace her to keep her from falling or slipping, calm her if a panic attack is approaching, and distract her from feelings of fear and anxiety. Should she need a phone in an emergency, as she did when she first became ill, the service dog will bring her the phone.

There is an ECAD account for donations made in her name. To donate, visit