NORTH ANDOVER — Every morning, 26-year-old Chris Boshar takes his black Labrador retriever for a 1-mile walk, then follows it up by sending him on 20 sprints to get his beloved tennis ball after his aide, Meghan Osterhout, lets it fly.
Roddy weighed 80 pounds when Boshar got him about seven weeks ago, but he has since dropped 6 pounds.
“It’s the Chris Boshar exercise regimen,” Boshar said. “He’s like a lifeline for me, so I need to make sure he’s healthy and in shape.”
The North Andover resident is paralyzed from his shoulders down. He sustained a catastrophic spinal cord injury on July 2, 2011, while celebrating the Fourth of July holiday with his family and friends on Lake Winnisquam in New Hampshire.
Boshar had gone to get a sandwich on a nearby boat, but he slipped off and fell hard into shallow water.
“I was conscious for everything,” Boshar said. “I knew when I was in the water what happened.”
Last year, Boshar decided to get a service dog to help him with tasks most people take for granted, including opening doors and turning on lights. Most of all, a dog would provide much needed companionship.
But Boshar didn’t have the $10,000 needed to acquire a service dog.
He was unaware that members of the community were uniting to raise the money for him.
“Through this injury I’ve seen that the best human capability is generosity,” Boshar said. “ ‘Thank yous’ don’t seem to adequately express the appreciation that we have toward the community. We as a people, we do care about one another within the community.”
Diane Tower, owner of Andover Animal Hospital, took the initiative to help Boshar by researching various breeders.
Tower knows Boshar’s mother, Kathy, through work they had done together at the Lawrence Boys & Girls Club. Boshar lives in an addition built onto his mother’s North Andover home.
After a lifetime surrounded by dogs, Tower can attest to the immense effect the animals have on humans. She knew that finding a service dog would be a long process, but well worth it.
“For the majority of people, we see how hugely the dogs help handicapped people,” Tower said. “And not only physically, but emotionally. You see people who are depressed in a wheelchair, and they get a dog and they light up.”
Tower said that someone like Boshar must wait one year after an injury to apply with a local organization for a service dog. After an initial interview, the waiting begins. Sometimes, she said, the process of matching the right dog to the person’s requirements can take up to two years.
To speed things up, Tower began raising money around Christmas .She posted fliers at the animal hospital, and raised money through donations and a bake sale.
Tower also sold pet-supply products from LuLu and Dots, a local store that had leftover inventory after closing.
Tower raised $5,000, but it was only half of what was needed.
In December, Andover resident Dan Harrington was taking his 6-year-old English cream golden retriever, Tucker, to the vet for a checkup when he saw the flier.
Harrington is involved with Pawprints, a therapy dog visitation program at Boston Children’s Hospital, where he brings Tucker in every two weeks to visit with patients. He can testify to the positive effect a dog can have on those with disabilities.
“I felt that it was a good thing to do and I had nothing to lose,” Harrington said. “I said, ‘Hey let’s give it a try.’ I didn’t put too much thought into it.”
Harrington, who owns a North Reading-based HVAC company, went home that night and told his wife, Colleen, about the effort to help Boshar. Colleen wrote a letter that Harrington sent to his customers. He got donations from $25 to $1,500, ultimately raising the remaining $5,000 Boshar needed.
Not too long after the money was raised, an employee at the Andover Animal Hospital learned of a 5-year-old former service dog in need of a home. That’s when Roddy and Boshar were introduced.
“It’s me and the Rod-man now,” Boshar said.
Roddy hadn’t exercised his service dog duties for quite some time when Boshar got him, so training was necessary.
Spencer Shepard, owner of Make No Bones Dog Training, has been teaching Roddy basic obedience, including how to sit, stay, and lie down.
Shepard said he hopes to make Roddy a qualified service dog within the next six months.
“He’ll be able to turn on light switches for him, pick things up and hand them to him,” Shepard said. “Chris loves Roddy and he’s very good for him. Roddy will be able to go places with him and make his life better, so he won’t be so dependent on other people.”
Although Boshar said his disability prevents him from being able to pet Roddy and give him affection, right now he’s focusing on forming a bond and making a connection, which is proving to be successful.
“Things can go dark at any time, and he can be that lightening mood in the room whatever he’s doing, whether he’s rolling around in the snow and doing something silly, it just makes you laugh,” Boshar said.
“And he’s just focusing on that one moment, and sometimes I relate to that because I train myself to just live in that moment.”
Terri Ogan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.