How a Service Dog Helped My Special Needs Child

Getting a service dog changed our son's life and improved life for our family.

The proverbial “straw” followed a seizure moments after I ran into the next room to grab something for him. In the 30 seconds that he was out of my sight, he had a seizure and fell into and knocked down a six-foot potted plant. He thankfully was fine. I, on the other hand, was a wreck. The thoughts of what could have happened were making me crazy. As his mother, I should have been there to stop it. The problem was, I could only be in one place at a time and in order to get anything done, I had to have another set of eyes watching him for the brief moments that he was out of sight. 

So, we installed cameras: one in Matthew’s room and one in the family room — the two places where he spent most of his time. I was able to see him on my phone while I ran into the other room or up the stairs to grab something. But again, he was an active little boy and as soon as I would leave the room, he would inevitably walk out of view of the camera forcing me to run back to make sure he was OK. We knew we had to do something, and we had to do it soon.

Choosing a Service Dog

I researched service dogs, and talked with people that had a service dog. I met their dogs and saw first hand some of the things that these amazing animals were trained to do, including seizure response, medication reminders, mobility and keeping track of wanderers. I spoke with trainers, companies that provide already trained dogs and breeders. I learned about costs, grants and programs to pay for them. There are a lot of options and it can be a long process, but the benefits are incredible!

We chose to adopt a puppy. We named her Dori and opted to train her at home with the help of a qualified trainer named Teresa. Teresa came highly recommend and was very knowledgeable. I could tell right away that she cared about the dogs and families with whom she worked. Matthew and our Dori quickly formed a strong bond, and Dori learned that she had an important job in looking after her best friend Matthew.

Adrienne Zarrillo

Best friends, Dori and Matthew.

Dori eventually traveled everywhere with us including doctor’s appointments and hospital visits. She learned how to find Matthew if he was out of sight, find us if he was having a seizure, and stay by his side until his seizure was over. She even began to alert us before a seizure was coming (not all dogs cando this). Most of all, Dori provided Matthew with friendship and comfort while bringing some much needed piece of mind to me and my husband.

The world of parenting a special needs child is full of challenges and important decisions. It is also full of wonderful opportunities. I am happy to say that getting a service dog for my sweet, handsome boy was one of the best decisions that I have ever made!


Adrienne Zarrillo is a wife and mother as well as co-founder of Matthew’s Helping Hands, a local nonprofit organization that provides fun and social activities to children with autism and related special needs. She and her husband set up Matthew’s Helping Hands to honor their amazing son, Matthew, who passed away in 2015. Adrienne is also mother to a beautiful 17-year-old daughter Nina. 

To connect with our special needs community, you can join the private facebook group Special Friends Connection – Charlotte Area.