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Tri-City family needs service dog for their son, Matteo

The Trovato household is like any other at the end of the workday when everyone is rushing to get dinner on the table and the little ones are beginning to feel ignored.

The Trovato household is like any other at the end of the workday when everyone is rushing to get dinner on the table and the little ones are beginning to feel ignored.

It's a bit noisy, everyone is hungry and that crushed garlic looks good enough to eat.

Matteo, 7, opens his mouth for a tablespoonful but his quick-thinking mom, Michelle Slaney-Trovato, drops it in the pot.

"He loves to cook," says Slaney-Trovato as she hugs the curly-headed youngster who is standing on a step-stool so he can reach the stove.

Outside their Coquitlam home, it's cold and the snow is crunchy, but indoors, it's cozy with the television on, monster-sized toy trucks strewn about and the remains of an artificial Christmas tree waiting to be packed.

Ed Trovato, a Gleneagle music director, is overseeing spaghetti dinner preparations while two-year-old Enrique seeks his dad's attention and a black cat slinks about. When an international student shows up to grab a snack from the fridge, it's a full house.

But for the local couple, there is something missing in this family picture.

The family wants a dog - not just any dog but a special service dog that would help keep Matteo safe and alive.

It may sound dramatic but Matteo has more than the usual challenges of a Grade 2 student. He's both near-sighted and legally blind, has difficulties with mobility, speech difficulties, a developmental delay and cerebral palsy-like symptoms on his left side. He's working on all these challenges with the help of skilled professionals.

But what nobody can fix are the seizures that sneak up on the little boy, sometimes without warning and, occasionally, in the middle of the night.

"We are almost completely helpless," his mom says. "My worst nightmare as a mother was watching my [then] five-year-old son have a 13-minute seizure and waiting for the ambulance to get there to help us."

Matteo is on medication that controls the seizures but his condition will change as he gets older and seizures could return at any time, Slaney-Trovato says.

For now, the youngster with the big smile and thin brown legs sleeps with his parents at night but a service dog trained to detect seizures could help the family and enable Matteo to gain some independence as he gets older.

It was seven years ago when the Trovatos brought Matteo home from a hospital in Los Angeles, where he was born to a woman who gave him up for adoption. At the time, there was no indication that he had any difficulties but within six months, they noticed he was not developing at the same rate as his peers.

The years passed by and Matteo has grown like a weed. He's outgoing, loves movies and has made a lot of friends at his school, Moody elementary.

"He perseveres with many things where other children would give up," says Slaney-Trovato, a Burnaby high school teacher.

The couple also adopted Enrique, this time from a hospital in Pennsylvania, and Matteo now has a younger brother, but a canine companion could help him navigate the world, alert him to cars in parking lots, for example, calm him down in stressful situations and, most importantly, detect the subtle changes in brain chemistry and behaviour that signal the onset of a seizure.

"These are highly sensitive animals," Slaney-Trovato said.

The dog would come from 4 Paws for Ability in Ohio but the Trovatos need help with the $13,000 training fee and $6,000 travel cost.

"Of course, we could find the money," she said, "but we'd have to give up other things," such as the team of professionals who work with the boy.

To aid them in this venture, the couple is reaching out to the community and, with Ed Trovato's connections with musicians and teachers in School District 43, they've already raised $4,000. Another event is planned for Feb. 2 with live jazz, music and cocktails at Milestones in Coquitlam.

It would be a big help if Matteo could get a companion service dog to help him with the important job of growing up, his parents say.

"To him, the world is a big and exciting place," and Slaney-Trovato.

She would like it to be a safe one, too.

The fundraiser for Matteo's service dog will be held Thursday, Feb. 2 and feature jazz, cocktails and a silent auction. It will be held at the Palomino Bar at Milestones Restaurant, 2745 Barnet Hwy., Coquitlam from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $30. To purchase a ticket, email Michelle at by Jan. 30.