YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. -- A service dog can make all the difference in the world to a family with autism.
BluePath Service Dogs, based in Hopewell Junction, is hosting its first annual walkathon at FDR State Park in Yorktown Heights on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The walkathon will raise funds to support the organization's mission to provide autism service dogs to families in need.
The organization began last year to help meet the needs of the community after Guiding Eyes folded its autism guide dog program. According to the CDC, 1 in 68 people has autism, including 1 in 40 boys.
"With this many people affected, something needs to be done about it," Tricia Zarro, BluePath's Board Chair and whose son Danny, has autism. "I've seen the difference a dog can make."
Growing up, Danny was nonverbal, and Zarro was concerned about him running off. When she acquired a service dog, she said she felt like she had her life back.
"He can participate more," Zarro said. "It started more conservations, people wanted to know about his dog. It helped ease him into social situations. The dog has helped reduce anxiety."
Zarro said BluePath makes sure to match the child's needs with what the dog is able to provide.
"The dogs are so smart," Zarro said. "They go to the person in need. When my daughter had strep throat, even though she didn't have her service vest on, he never left her side. They are very intuitive. We just feel lucky and happy to have her."
BluePath is currently training puppies and interviewing people who might be interested in obtaining a service dog. BluePath said it will provide a dog to anyone within a 3-hour driving distance.
Walkathon registration includes a BluePath event t-shirt. Adult walkers are $30; children under 13 years old are $20. For more information or to register, visit www.bluepathservicedogs.org.