HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, N.J. — His name was Mickey. He was a yellow Labrador and his owners say he was great with children.
Mickey died several years ago, but his spirit lives on through an organization run by his Hasbrouck Heights owners.
Tom and Michele Meli launched Mickey’s Kids Charitable Foundation in 2007 for Canine Assistants, a Georgia-based organization that breeds and trains dogs for children with special needs, after seeing it in a commercial.
“Kids and dogs,” said Michele Meli, a teacher at Academy of Our Lady in Glen Rock. “What better combination can you have?”
The Melis, Canine Assistants, hundreds of donors and 13 recipient families will unite on Friday evening in Carlstadt for Mickey’s Kids’ annual gala.
Each service dog costs approximately $20,000, and Meli plans to present Canine Assistants with a check on Friday that will fund two to four dogs.
“The nice thing about [the gala] is that when we give Canine Assistants the check… all the people that have helped us have something tangible to see,” Meli said. “They know where the money is going.”
Now in its ninth year, Mickey’s Kids has made a difference for dozens of children in the New York metropolitan area.
There was one little girl who suffered from a seizure disorder, Meli said. She wasn’t allowed to go anywhere unsupervised — not even around her own house.
Mickey’s Kids helped change that.
“Once they got the dog, she didn’t have to be shadowed anymore,” Meli said.
Then there was a child with a chromosome abnormality, Tom Meli recalled. Canine Assistants placed a dog to help the entire family.
"Having a child with disabilities can be difficult," he said. "The dog was there for [the child] and also to give support to the family — they have a lot on their plate."
“It’s really good,” Michele Meli added. “These dogs have changed the lives of these kids.”
Email Tom and Michele Meli to donate or to schedule a Mickey’s Kids presentation.
The gala will be at 7 p.m. at Il Villaggio, 651 Route 17, in Carlstadt.