Golden Retriever lives up to CHAMP status, providing healing, comfort

COLUMBIA, IL (KTVI) - A local non-profit is giving hope and healing in the form of four paws.

CHAMP Assistance Dogs trains and places service dogs for people with physical and cognitive disabilities.  The organization has placed dozens of dogs with clients in the St. Louis area.

“They work really well. And they love to work. And that’s what we want. Is a dog that enjoys their work,” CHAMP Executive Director Pam Budke said.

A prime CHAMP success story is told from a home in Columbia, Illinois.

The Fiorelli family adopted their daughter, Natalie, from China when she was 15-months-old. She had been poisoned with carbon monoxide when she was an infant.

Now 9-years-old, Natalie uses a speech device to communicate and a wheelchair and walker. Her cognitive skills are intact and she can carry on full conversations. She attends a public school in Monroe County, Illinois.

The Fiorellis welcomed Bentley, a specially-trained Golden Retriever, into their home recently. Bentley is a CHAMP, an acronym that stands for “Canine Helpers Allow More Possibilities.”

Bentley has certainly lived up to his title, helping Natalie pick up items, and more importantly, giving her a sense of security.

Before Bentley arrived, Natalie suffered from several sleepless nights.

“She wanted to know, what was going to happen if we had a fire. What was going to happen in certain situations when she was in bed? She had a lot of anxiety,” Julie Fiorelli, Natalie’s mother, said.

Since then, Bentley has given Natalie a sense of security.

“He helps me sleep,” Natalie said.

CHAMP provides dogs free of charge to more than 60 clients in the St. Louis area, free of charge. It costs about $15,000 to train the dogs. Bentley was a welcome gift to the Fiorellis.

“The constant battle that you live day to day, trying to advocate for your child,” Julie Fiorelli said. “And then a wonderful says to sit back and enjoy it. Enjoy the training and fall in love with the dog.”