Jeff Brosi and Jasper are the winners of the Eukanuba 2004 Assistance Dog of the Year Contest.
When informed that among 130 entrants, he landed on top, Brosi responded with typical New York City bravado, “Why there’s no doubt,” he says, “Jasper is one of the best service dogs out there.”
Brosi, who is 25, explains, “I didn’t even know service dogs could help people in my situation and now with Jasper I can get things done faster; he’s a great help.”
Jeff’s mom is positively ebullient, “A dog has never meant so much. After Jasper joined the family, a new light came back to my son’s eyes. Any mother can understand what I mean after what’s happened.”
What happened is the kind of story you might think would only be on a TV soap opera. In 1999 Jeff worked as a bartender, helping to put himself through school. It was a late night, and Jeff was tired, as he was driving home, he pulled off to the shoulder to sleep.
At about 4:30 a.m. a car plowed into his standing vehicle. That car swerved into oncoming traffic. The police found the vehicle empty. With a phony license plate and vehicle registration, to this day they have no idea who hit him.
The first paramedic on the scene was a friend of the family who had known Jeff since he was a baby. “I remember being cut out of the car, but of course, it was a long time before I knew exactly how much my life would change,” he says.
He was in the hospital for five months, and is now a quadriplegic.
His dreams of following his dad and both his brothers to become a firefighter had been crushed in less than a New York City minute. Jeff had been going to college at Mt. Saint Vincent where he was majoring in elementary education. He somehow managed to return to school and graduate, and then even began a Master’s Degree program in School Counseling from St. John’s University (where he has also since graduated).
“He never missed a beat,” says mom, Pat. “He’d say, ‘Well my life has to go on, doesn’t it?’ But it wasn’t so easy, just doing the littlest thing now took so much time and effort.”
Six months after getting out of the hospital, Jeff attended a disability expo and was introduced for the first time to service dogs trained to assist quadriplegics. “About one second, that’s how long it took for me to sign up,” he says. “I knew about dogs helping the blind, but I just didn’t know dogs could do this.”
He signed up with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) in June, 2000. But it wasn’t until November of 2003 that he was paired with Jasper. “That’s a big problem, the demand for these dogs exceeds the number that are available, so people have to wait,” he says. “By the time they told me that I finally had a dog, I had learned to be pretty independent. The thought had crossed my mind, ‘what do I need to have the responsibility of a dog for now?’
Still, he decided to go for it. “The best decision I ever made,” says Jeff.
Jeff went for two weeks of training, to start the bonding process and to learn how to train his new partner. CCI dogs are free, but Jeff did pay about $100 for leashes, collars and a vest indicating that Jasper, a 3-year old golden/Labrador retriever mix, is a CCI service dog.
When Jeff drops things, Jasper is right there to pick them up, he retrieves objects, opens doors and even pulls the wheelchair when Jeff gets tired.
Ask mom and she also talks about those practical applications, but she also prefers to speak about peace of mind, “Because Jasper is always with Jeff, I know that he’s never out alone,” she says.
Jeff used to periodically get light headed. Instantly Jasper would be at his side. “He just knew something was wrong,” says Jeff. “I don’t know how. I don’t get really down " but you know, sometimes a little frustrated. When that happens, I look down and there’s a squeaky toy in my lap. Jasper is so in touch with whatever it is that I’m feeling.”
Jeff continues to participate in one of his favorite hobbies before the accident, caring for tropical fish; he has three tanks. Jasper’s favorite hobby is to decapitate the heads’ of those squeaky toys.
Jasper entered Jeff’s life when he had just over a year to go in grad school. “Friends weren’t so much an issue for me because I’m pretty outgoing. But there’s no question that Jasper attracts people, especially the girls. This is good.”
Unfortunately, Jasper hasn’t been able to help find Jeff employment; he’s been looking for school counseling job for nine months. Jeff explains the New York schools are old and mostly not accessible. He’s willing to consider relocating, but his network of family and friends are in New York City.
In his essay which he submitted for the contest, he wrote, “A bag of dog food, $35, a visit to the vet $75, The value of Japser to Jeff, Priceless.”
As the winner of the Assistance Dog of the Year Contest, which I helped to judge, Jeff won’t have to worry about any more dog food bills. He’ll receive a lifetime of Eukanuba food for Jasper. They also receive an all expense paid trip to the 2005 AKC/Eukanuba National Championship dog show in Tampa, FL. January 15 and 16. In addition, Eukanuba is making a $50,000 contribution to assistance/service dog organizations.
For further information about CCI, check out www.caninecompanions.org, or call 800-572-2275. Jeff wanted me to be sure to include their need for volunteers to raise puppies and also their need for funds.
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