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Fire department, dog enthusiasts, help man find a new friend

22 year-old man living with muscular dystrophy receives service dog as belated Christmas gift
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Julien Cote has finally received the belated Christmas gift that he’s been looking for all along - a dalmatian service dog by the name of ‘Boots’.

The 22 year-old lives with muscular dystrophy, and dreams of one day joining the local fire department in Sault Ste. Marie.

“He loves firemen and fire departments, so this is like a dream come true,” said firefighter Chris Plotycia with Sault Ste. Marie Fire Services. “He’s got his own dalmatian, so you know, he’s pretty pumped.”

Plotycia - the muscular dystrophy coordinator for the fire department - says that Cote moved to Sault Ste. Marie from Hawk Junction with his mother a couple of years ago, and the fire department has been helping out the family ever since, even purchasing lifts for Cote’s bedroom.

“We take care of our families,” said Plotycia. “I think Julien wants to show some pride back to us by getting a dalmatian service dog.”

The male dalmatian was named Boots in honour of the ‘boot drives’ Cote had taken part in with the fire department in order to raise money for muscular dystrophy.

“He likes helping out the fire department with boot drives and any events that we do,” said Plotycia. “If we’re there, you’ll probably see him there. He’s one of our biggest fans.”

Cote’s mother, Lisa, brought her son and his new service dog down to the fire hall on Bay Street Wednesday morning to meet up with Plotycia - who she says has been like “a big brother” to her family - and others who were responsible for helping Cote acquire his very own dalmatian.

Lisa, in tears, explained to SooToday that her son was just 17-years-old when he first felt the onset of muscular dystrophy, literally overnight. Cote was simply trying to get up to use the washroom one morning when he fell.

“He said, ‘Mom, I can’t lift up my feet’,” said Lisa. “And now, he can’t walk.”

Five years later, Cote is almost quadriplegic. He scratches his own eyebrow, and can barely feed himself. That’s about all the mobility this condition allows him at this point in his life.

It was a chance meeting last year between Cote and local resident Patti Lynn Boston that helped spark the search for Boots.

Cote was coming out of the Cambrian Mall when he noticed Patty’s female dalmatian that she’d been training as a service dog. During that chance encounter, Boston was told that all Cote really wanted for Christmas was a dalmatian.

Boston then asked Plotycia about Cote, not even knowing the names of the family that she was approached by. Boston then phoned the Cote family and said, “what if I could find you a dalmatian for Christmas? Let’s make Julien’s Christmas dream come true.”

She then began to contact different people and groups on Facebook.

“This can’t be that hard to do, let’s see what we can do,” Boston recalled. “I just reached out and everybody passed on the word.”

Boston’s search for a service dog brought her to Jennifer Laird, a dog trainer with nearly 20 years of experience under her belt and a master level agility trainer with the Agility Association of Canada.

Laird, who lives just north of Kingston, happened to have a dalmatian service dog that had been surrendered to her back in November 2017.

“He’s a very, very smart boy,” said Laird, who traveled for nearly three days in order to bring Boots to Sault Ste. Marie for Cote. “There’s no better dog for this family at this point in time.”

“With all the nasty stuff going on in the world these days, it’s really nice to have that faith in humanity that good things happen to good people, regardless of what life had brought them.”