Twenty-four-year-old Carlene Rice of Brewer, who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), knows all too well how helpful a service dog can be. Rice's CMT affects her sight and her mobility, and that's where her dog Champ came in handy. He could turn lights on and off, help her put her coat on, and he was even able to fetch something in the fridge for her. But when Champ passed away suddenly due to an illness, Carlene's family stepped in to care for her. It didn't take long for them to realize she needed another service dog, and that's when the family contacted Citizens of Maine, an agency that provides care and support for adults with developmental disabilities, located on Harlow Street in Bangor.
"It wasn't a situation where we could say 'no,'" said Julie Helwig, president of Citizens of Maine.
After Carlene's sister took the necessary steps to get her a new service dog named Gibbs, the clients at the agency came up with a way to help the family with their expenses. The group agreed to make and sell doggy biscuits, with all the proceeds going towards the cost of Gibbs' training.
"We came up with a few recipes, and the one we decided to go with had very few ingredients and a longer shelf life," explained Helwig. "It tastes like a dry wheat cracker. Some of us tried it and for me it tastes like a homemade wheat Boboli pizza crust."
The clients at the agency make up a batch whenever they have the necessary ingredients on hand, which include wheat flour, dry milk, butter, egg, salt and water.
"Every time I try and cut the dog bones I mess them up awful," explained Shannon Gillespie, a client who helps make the dog biscuits.
"Cutting them is my favorite part," said Susan Laatz, another client at the agency. "Mixing is OK, but you have to mix the dough with your hands and I don't care for it, but I'll do it," she said.
The clients are also in charge of packaging and labeling the doggy biscuits. And they've named their product "Champs Biscuits" in memory of Carlene's previous service dog.
"Once I knew who we were helping, it made it more worthwhile," said Laatz.
"Champs Biscuits" come with six bones per package. They sell for $3 a package and are currently available at the Citizens of Maine office and the Laundromat, both located in the Intown Plaza on Harlow Street in Bangor. "Champs Biscuits" can also be found at Home Living and R&K Variety in Hampden.
At last count, the agency has raised $560 for Gibbs' service dog training.
"We got into this to make a difference, not to make a buck," said Helwig. "And although our sales totals pale in comparison to the cost of training, the efforts these folks have made to help out a friend have no price tag," she said.