CLIFTON PARK — In Clifton Park, one little puppy will make a huge difference in the life of one young boy.
Jack Spring, 3, was surprised Monday night at the Vischer Ferry Fire Company firehouse as he was carried by his parents, Meghan and John, to a fire truck that revealed a tiny but energetic chocolate lab who would be his forever friend.
With help from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the puppy, named Bear by the family, was specially hand-picked to become Jack’s forever friend and service dog.
Jack, when he was 5 days old, was diagnosed with Ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency, or OTC, a rare genetic disease that will affect Jack’s ability to communicate and be independently mobile. As a result of the disorder, Jack had a liver transplant at 14 months old.
Kirsten Broschinsky, director of development for Make-A-Wish Northeast New York, said that giving gifts to children like Jack is “one of the best parts of her job.”
“Jack is one of the sweetest little boys I’ve ever met in my entire life,” she said. “He just has such a true heart. He loves to dance, he loves to spell, and he loves dogs,” she said, noting that one of the first things that Jack’s parents told her during their first meeting with the organization was the fact that Jack has always loved dogs.
Many Make-A-Wish gifts and wishes, Broschinsky said, consist of trips, which also carry special memories. But with Bear, she said, the Spring family will have a constant source of joy for Jack.
“Not only will they get Bear as part of their family, but they’ll get to go through the training with him, to help him be a service dog, and train him for the very specific tasks that will be important for Jack. And that’s really special,” she said.
The Spring family, she said, was fairly certain from the beginning that a therapy and service dog would be the best Make-A-Wish gift for Jack.
The Spring family met with a breeder a few weeks ago to pick out a dog. The breeder had a few puppies in mind for the family. During that time, she said, Bear exhibited a laid back behavior, even when Jack became upset. That was how they knew he was the dog they wanted.
“He’s doing amazing, compared to what we told when we got the prognosis,” Meghan Spring said about her son. “So we’re just hoping that Bear, besides the friendship he’s going to have with him, will also give him independence as he gets older.”
Bear is set to immediately begin his training to be a companion for Jack, first through regular obedience school and then through a specialized service animal training that will help him cater specifically to Jack’s needs.
Jack will be accompanying Bear to training every day so the two become familiar with each other, Spring said.
Bear will help Jack with independence as the young boy grows. Eventually, Bear will be able to help Jack open doors, pick up items that he may drop and pull a wheelchair.
Spring called the Make-A-Wish experience “amazing and humbling.” The entire experience, down to the name the family selected for the puppy, was geared specifically to her son.
“It’s a word that Jack can say,” she said of the name, Bear. “His vocabulary isn’t the biggest, plus he looks like a little teddy bear.”
Day-to-day life for Jack, Spring said, is mostly routine, with medications and preschool. Bear will be integrated into that.
“It’s going to be a forever friend for him,” Spring said. “He’s going to have a great bond with that dog that is going to be unbreakable.”