With a teddy bear strapped to the back of her wheelchair, Shea Meagle, a 20-year-old Hampton Bays resident, trains with her new assistance dog, Pierre. The two are bonding at the Northeast Regional Center of Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), located in Medford. It’s the place where Meagle first met Mercer, her original assistance dog, about whom she wrote a children’s novel—Marvelous Mercer—at the age of 12, during her early years of living with muscular atrophy.
These are the final days of a two-week-long intensive training program, but Pierre is not the one who’s getting trained—Meagle is also learning. Pierre has already completed six months of advanced training, during which he learned 50 essential and complicated commands, including going to the bathroom on command.
Now Meagle must learn how to use these commands and how to care for her new companion before she can take him home—free of charge. The training program includes indoor and outdoor exercises, quizzes, lectures, homework assignments and field trips. The goal is for Meagle to be able to manage her dog safely and appropriately in real-life situations.
During her stay at CCI, Meagle lives with her mother in one of the free dorm rooms at the center. She is spending most of her time with her new friend as they practice commands. Pierre and the other assistance dogs who are training outside are not muzzled and robotic—they’re happy-go-lucky dogs whose tails are wagging as they faithfully lay by the side of their partners’ wheelchairs. But while they’re cute and friendly, these dogs are also highly alert and capable. A cross between Labrador and golden retriever, they are the perfect hybrid of intelligence and faithfulness.
When it’s time to go inside, Pierre walks alongside Meagle, allowing her to move through doorways first. During a field trip to a local pet store, Pierre makes purchases for Meagle by presenting a credit card to a cashier and carrying the shopping bags.The only part of the team-training program at CCI that is more breathtaking than the beautiful assistance dogs is Meagle herself, a truly remarkable woman who is full of life.
“I came into this closed and cautious because of my deep connection with Mercer,” she admits.
When she first met Pierre, Meagle said the two gave each other a look that expressed something along the lines of “who the hell are you?” But in just over a week, the two are now closely connected, and she affectionately refers to Pierre as her “French lover.”
When Meagle completes CCI’s team training program, she will return home to her college classes, but her ambitions extend far beyond the classroom.
“I do take college classes on the side,” she confirms, “but what I really want to do is write young adult novels. I write every day, whether it be a sentence or a chapter—it depends on how much caffeine I’ve had,” Meagle says.
The only thing bigger than Meagle’s dream is her heart, thanks to the connections she has shared with her service dogs from CCI. Her mom comments, “[CCI] is one of the gems of Long Island. You can’t help but feel the immensity that these dogs do for emotion.”
Meagle added, “Mercer taught me to love. Pierre taught me to love again.”
Meagle’s story is only one of many. If you would like to help CCI through a donation, volunteering or puppy raising, visit cci.org. A community dog walk and fundraiser will be held on October 3 at Marjorie Post Park in Massapequa to benefit CCI.