SACKETS HARBOR — Honor student, soccer player, and member of the school marching band, among other extracurriculars, will fill out the resume of current freshman Nicolas Arthur, 14, when he begins to apply to colleges.
Do you have any friends or family members who have had a service animal?
While Nic may seem like any other student at Sackets Harbor Central School, there is more going on with him than meets the eye.
Diagnosed with a high-functioning form of autism generally known as Asperger’s syndrome when he was in the first grade, school hasn’t been the easiest place to be for Nic, despite his love of learning. Along with not always being able to understand things like social cues or sarcasm, Nic also struggles with lights, sounds, and smells, all of which are abundant in a school setting.
Despite these challenges, Nic wishes to go away to college after graduation and live independently like his peers.
“I used to get so overwhelmed when I was little,” he wrote in an essay about himself. “I could not articulate feelings of fear, anxiety, loneliness and being left out of social activities, such as birthday parties, sleep-overs and hanging out. Back then it never seemed possible that I could go away to college.”
Six years ago, the family moved from the Syracuse area to the Sackets Harbor Central School District after Nic’s mother, Beth Arthur, had spoken with then principal and current superintendent Jennifer Gaffney. Nic was having some trouble at his old school and wasn’t able to focus in the regular classrooms but was too high-functioning to be placed in special education classes.
Mrs. Arthur thought because the Sackets school was smaller that he would be able to do well there, and since then she has been proven right. He is flourishing in his school, she said, and he and the school have learned how he can be successful through the day and not be driven to meltdowns after setbacks.
Though he’s come a long way since first being diagnosed, Nic could still use some help when it comes to social situations — and all college kids need roommates. This is where the organization SDWR comes in.
SDWR is a service dog provider based in Virginia, connecting those who need them with dogs that help with autism, seizures, PTSD, and diabetes. SDWR’s service dogs for autism provide support for both those diagnosed and their families, assisting with overall calming, redirection from self-harm, improved sleep patterns, and increased social interaction, among others.
“Due to the support of my parents, my grandparents, my school and my small town, I recently have been offered the opportunity to receive a new friend, my college roommate so to speak,” Nic wrote. “My friend, an autism service dog, will help change my life and the life of my family.”
The autism service dogs act as guardians and friends to provide the extra support those with autism need. SDWR’s proprietary training and placement program ensures that every family with autism service dogs find the independence and safety they are looking for, according to the website.
SDWR mainly places golden and labrador retrievers. and, in extreme cases due to doctor-verified allergies, they also place doodles. More information about SDWR and the service dogs available can be found on the organization’s website: https://www.sdwr.org/.
“The gift of the autism service dog now will help me prepare the skills and confidence I need to venture into the world outside my school and town,” Nic wrote.
Because of SDWR’s ongoing customized training program for each family, the service dogs end up being quite costly. SDWR asks that recipient families become ambassadors to help raise awareness, advocacy, education and funding to offset nearly half the expenses of raising and training a service dog, as it costs nearly $50,000 to place and train each service dog it provides.
So far, more than $10,000 out of the Arthur family’s $25,000 pledge has been raised. According to his mother, Nic has decided that if donations exceed the family’s fundraising goal, the excess money can be paid forward and used to help further SDWR’s mission of placing more service dogs for individuals.
“My dog will be able to help me in the sticky social situations I struggle with by giving me comfort, providing me with a way to calm down, help keep me on track with living independently, help me not feel so alone and keep me safe,” Nic wrote. “He will also provide my family some support when having to help me learn how to become more independent.”
Pearl and Tom Scozzafava, owners of the Sackets Harbor Brew Pub, plan to help out the Arthur family by using their Halloween party on Saturday to collect donations toward a service dog for Nic.
Though the party doesn’t start until 7 p.m. that night, donations can be made throughout the day in person at the Brew Pub as well as at the party in the evening, but those who can’t be there in person still can donate online through this link: https://sdwr.donordrive.com/campaign/Sackets-Harbor-Service-Dog-Awareness. All donated money will go directly to SDWR for Nic’s dog.
Checks can be made payable to the following: Service Dogs by SDWR, PO Box 647 Madison, VA 22727, with the memo “In honor of the Arthur family.”
“When we got the text about this from Pearl I started crying, when the community is coming out and helping us and saying they want to help our son, it’s overwhelming in a good way,” Mrs. Arthur said. “You want to believe there are good people in this world, and this shows that there are. It’s unbelievable.”
When his parents would go down to the former Anchor Bar and Grill, which also was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Scozzafava and unfortunately burned down recently, Nic would accompany them because he couldn’t be left alone. According to Mrs. Arthur, Nic would always be drawing while he was there, and he has quite the talent. Mrs. Scozzafava would then buy Nic’s completed artwork from him for $1 or 50 cents and hang it around the bar, helping to boost his confidence.
The Brew Pub will have a separate booth for the donations Saturday night, and part of the proceeds for a particular beer will go to the effort as well, according to Mr. Scozzafava.
This help comes on the back of previous assistance from a fundraiser the Arthur family was involved in a few weeks ago with the local American Legion and Sackets Harbor Service Dog Awareness. The event featured tacos, ice cream, and raffles with the goal of raising money toward a dog for Nic.
Dubbed by Mr. and Mrs. Scozzafava as ‘Paws 4 a Cause,’ Saturday’s fundraising will feature people walking around with plastic pumpkins for guests to fill with donations; ‘feeding the pumpkins,’ so to speak.
The Arthur family’s fundraising goal before the holidays is to hit the halfway mark: $12,500 toward a companion for Nic, with the ultimate goal for Nic to be able to have his dog by the end of his sophomore year so it can be trained and help with independence before he goes off to college.
Along with working to raise money toward his service dog, Nic also has been actively educating others about the benefits of service dogs, making him feel like he has a purpose that’s bigger than just himself, according to Mrs. Arthur.
“He’s feeling accepted and people are becoming more aware of what these dogs can do for others,” she said. “He feels good about being able to share the information with others.”
Though there are no other planned fundraisers, Mrs. Arthur said she and Nic will be working on perfecting the recipe for natural dog biscuits over the winter and seeing if local shops would be willing to sell them to help the effort.
“Our hopes are we’re getting awareness out so people understand how important these dogs are. We’re hoping to touch someone else and help them start in the program,” Mrs. Arthur said. “We’re very blessed, who would think that we’d move to Sackets Harbor and the K through 12 school and the community would be buying this dog for him?”
The full story Nic wrote about himself and his future service dog can be found online at https://sdwr.donordrive.com/campaign/Sackets-Harbor-Service-Dog-Awareness.