When she was 8, Shea Megale met up with Mercer, the Labrador-golden retriever mix who was her new assistance dog, trained to pick up things, turn on lights and open doors.
"I was able to be my own person -- through a dog," said Megale, now 19, born with spinal muscular atrophy, Type 2, meaning she is unable to walk.
So strong a bond formed that the budding writer went on to self-publish three "Marvelous Mercer" books for children in which her canine companion, who died five years ago, did things she couldn't -- ice skate and swim in the ocean.
On Friday, Megale, of Hampton Bays and the Washington, D.C., area, was one of 10 children and adults with disabilities to get teamed up with new assistance dogs at a ceremony at Canine Companions for Independence in Medford.
"He's my French lover," Megale said of Pierre II, her new 2-year-old Lab-golden mix.
Marking its 40th anniversary, the national organization has trained and placed more than 4,680 assistance dogs with people with disabilities, including children and wounded military veterans.
The ceremony started with 29 dogs "matriculating" -- the culmination of a year and a half of socialization and learning the basics while living with volunteer puppy raisers, now to be followed by six months of advanced training in some 50 commands. The newly graduated dogs were paired with their human recipients, who have been on-site the past two weeks learning how to care for their new companions and use the commands.
Among those also matched with dogs were a college student, 21, from upstate Saratoga Springs; a man, 24, who owns a clock-making and repair business in Horsham, Pennsylvania; and a hospital volunteer, 63, from Culpeper, Virginia.
The waiting list for a dog is about a year to a year and a half, said John Bentzinger, Northeast public relations coordinator. While the cost to train and raise each dog is about $50,000, he said, the recipient pays no fee "thanks to the generosity of our donors."
What role Pierre II might he play in Megale's writing, which includes 11 yet-to-be-published young adult novels? She said she is "not closing any doors" to his future in books. But she says at the very least "he'll keep me sane." When doubts about writing surface, she said, "Pierre will tell me to believe."