What would you do, how far would you go to keep your family intact?
What doors would you knock on – even push through – to get your child the help he needed?
When Rabbi Harvey Winokur and his wife Donnie adopted two babies from a Russian orphanage, they had no idea the journey they were embarking on. Instead of a picture-perfect tour of soccer games and play dates, they found themselves in the middle of a chaotic, and often alarming cycle of stress and difficulty as their son’s hidden condition made itself known.
At first Donnie and Harvey thought he might be struggling with ADHD or autism. Then they got a diagnosis they were not prepared for – their son Iyal was born with the birth defect, fetal alcohol syndrome. His birth mother drank during her pregnancy, resulting in permanent damage to Iyal’s brain. They learned later that his insidious condition would create a life-long battle, which, in comparison, would dwarf these other disorders.
Donnie tried everything – diets, therapies, social skills groups, you name it – until she heard about a novel solution being tried for children living with autism. A facility in Ohio started training service dogs and having great success to assist children experiencing psychiatric disorders and autism. What if, Donnie thought, these same people could train a dog to anchor Iyal in his confusing and disconnected existence?
By the time Donnie discovered these service dogs, the family at home was stressed beyond belief. While Donnie, who had never had dogs growing up, thought a dog was a great idea, her husband Harvey knew exactly how much work a dog would be, and wasn’t ready for the extra responsibility that would bring to a household already pushed to the limits.
The whole family was turned inside out trying to cope with Iyal’s oppositional and irrational behavior, and by his extraordinary needs. Harvey, in a moment of frustration, told Donnie – ‘it’s the dog or me.’
She didn’t believe him. She just knew that this dog was the answer they had been looking for. She knew it.
So Donnie forged ahead, willing to bet her marriage and her family, willing to bet everything to help her son, and maybe save the family in the process.
And she was right. A dedicated Golden Retriever rescue, named Chancer, bounded into their lives, and opened up a world to Iyal that had previously been impenetrable. The Winokur’s story now includes the magical relationship between a compassionate canine and a rescued boy. With the addition of Chancer, healing came not just to the boy, but the whole family.