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What if your new best friend was once homeless, received an excellent education, and could save your life? Oh, and he has four legs, too.

If your new best friend comes from Diggity Dogs Service Dogs, Inc., it’s no wonder he’s so great!

Photo by Corey StankePhoto by Corey Stanke.“Diggity Dogs Service Dogs makes a difference every day by training rescue dogs as psychiatric and medical alert service dogs,” says Sarah Meikle, Executive Director of Diggity Dogs. These dogs “help individuals with invisible disabilities live fuller, happier, more independent lives.”

By rescuing and training former shelter dogs rather than breeding service dogs, the non-profit organization saves these animals from potentially being euthanized with 3-4 million other dogs and cats annually in the United States. A partnership with the rescue organization PAWS New England has made it possible for Diggity Dogs to find suitable dogs that are able to pass their rigorous standards and assessment process, which is designed to analyze the dogs’ behavior, temperament, and more. All Diggity Dogs are non-aggressive and dog- and kid-friendly.

P1020494 - CopyBreanne, daughter of Stephanie Gale, enjoyed spending time with Diggity Dogs both big and small at the 2014 Meals on Wheels Walkathon, which Diggity Dogs Service Dogs sponsored.

It takes time and dedication to train the dogs – usually six to nine months – and local families and individuals volunteer to foster both dogs and puppies until they have “graduated.”

The “Service Dog Placement Program” costs $5,000, and, for those who need financial assistance, Diggity Dogs offers fundraising support on their website and social media pages. You can visit their website to apply: indogswetrust.org.Service dog applicants are included in the final stages of training to ensure that their dogs know how to respond to their symptoms based on the applicants’ desires. A week-long intensive course takes place when the applicant receives the dog; support continues with additional training over the next week year to ensure that the applicants’ specific needs are met.

If you already have a four-legged friend in your life, you may wish to consider the lower cost option. “Train Your Service Dog” courses are for individuals who would like to train their “existing dogs” to become service dogs. Three, five-day intro sessions are upcoming in 2015, taking place on January 5 to 9, February 23 to 2, and March 23 to 27 at the Diggity Dogs Training Center, located at 679 Mohawk Trail in Shelburne Falls. The cost is $1,800 and includes the intensive training course, twelve months of distance/online learning with grading and coaching, and continued support after graduation, as well as supportive materials for you and your newly trained service dog.

Those who participate in either the “Service Dog Placement Program” or the “Train Your Service Dog” courses will receive free, lifetime access to future Diggity Dogs classes and courses.

To learn more, apply for assistance, support a current applicant, foster a dog, or register for an event, visit indogswetrust.org or call 914-222-DOGS.

Richard Pelletier, J.D., Financial PlannerRichard Pelletier, J.D.,
Financial Planner
It may be an impossibility to caution and teach Grandma and Grandpa to learn when and how to say, "No," to those recurring requests for financial assistance from children and grandchildren; but to paraphrase one of my favorite quotes: "the delicious futility of the impossible tasks IS the catnip of the overachiever."

The generational clock has slowly but predictably ground past yet another year, and its clicking revolutions can further reveal our children/grandchildren evolving into strong independent adults – or sometimes into something else.

In this "season of giving," my assignment in this article, and all too often in my practice, is to caution retired parents on the financial prudence and wisdom of acting as their children's "Bank of FIRST Resort."

I am not here to play Scrooge. I tell my clients the greatest GIFT retired parents can give to their children is to remain physically and financially independent and not become a burden to their children.

We're NOT talking about birthday cards with cash inside or graduation checks here. How should parents respond appropriately to requests by their children for loans, cash, and/or acting as co-signers for educational and other loans of grandchildren?

Several cases recently have focused attention on many negative effects of the recent great recession on families of all ages.

Divorce, medical emergencies, loss of employment for a child or their spouse, or maybe children's homes now 'under water' and facing foreclosure can often be viewed through the eyes of retired parents when children ask for, and expect, "loans" to help them out.

When parents are repeatedly approached for yet another loan from the same child over and over again, at what point does it evolve into "elder financial abuse?"

Are prior "loans" ever paid back? Does one child suffer a severe allergy – to work? Or maybe the child has a serious drug/gambling addiction?

What seeds of future family feuds are planted when one child is severely dependent and draining needed retirement assets of his/her parents while other children watch helplessly from the sidelines?

After 30 years in practice I've learned that no two clients are exactly alike, nor are their family situations, BUT certain similarities are identifiable.

How to respond to requests for help:

Ask the child, is this a GIFT you are asking for or is this a LOAN? If it's GIFT, you need to ask your elder law attorney how you can adjust that child's future share of inheritance IF there is one. You need to tell the child you intend to seek legal advice and that you wish to be fair to ALL of your children.

If it's a LOAN, ask the child what terms they think are fair and equitable to them and parents. Listen closely to the response. I will always remember my 92-year-old father's advice to me many years ago: "Lend money to a friend, and you'll most likely collect it from an enemy." Well maybe not an enemy, but your daughter/son-in-law will look a little different to you then, I'm sure.

Tell your kids you'll need to check with your financial advisor as to where and how you could raise the money. There may be penalties, income taxes on IRA money, and/or capital gains taxes, loss of interest or dividends. Don't let them think you have millions lying around in the checkbook; you don't, do you? For the overly aggressive child or in-law, refer them to the advisor. The financial advisor can discuss collateral for loans and repayment schemes, etc.

What parent cannot view the slow glacier of adulthood as it encroaches ever so slowly over their children's youth, as it did their own, and not wonder the outcome? When it does freeze and captures a final clear picture of a mature and fully developed LIFE, then the parents should realize their best contributions to their children were best made far upstream from the final destination.

Mr. Pelletier is the former administrator of a 200-bed nursing home while he attended Western New England School of Law. His financial service practice specializes in Asset Preservation. He is the co-author of "Advising Elder Clients in Crisis," published by Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education Foundation in 2001, and has lectured at University of Massachusetts, Elms College, Western New England University on law, retirement planning, and economics over the last 25 years. His website is www.helptoretire.com.

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs, consult your financial services professional.

A arrangement of fresh fruit makes an excellent holiday gift for a senior.Buying gifts for seniors can be a challenge. By the time you reach a certain age you don’t need any more “stuff” in your life. There are also many seniors who live alone and who may not have the strength to do much in the way of food preparation. Food can be the perfect gift for a senior citizen.

Before you make or buy food for an individual, consider their situation. Is this someone who has difficulty chewing? Nuts would not be a good choice. Is the person still able to do some degree of cooking? Does he or she have any food allergies? Are they underweight or overweight? Are they adventurous eaters who might try something new? Do they have a good-sized freezer where they can keep frozen soup containers?

Here are some suggestions for senior gifts:

Homemade Soup

To keep the sodium content low, use low-sodium broth, or better yet, make your own. Up the protein and nutrient content by including beans or meat in the soup and a variety of vegetables. If your friend is underweight, consider a cream soup to increase the calorie content.

Nut Butters

These are a great source of protein and healthy fats. Include a few different kinds such as Almond Butter, Cashew Butter, or Sunflower Butter.

Nuts and Seeds

Include a variety of unsalted nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Whole Grain Crackers

Choose whole grain, low-sodium crackers such as Ak Mak, Kavli, or Ry-Vita (available in most grocery stores), or try specialty crackers, like Kashi or Mary’s Gone Crackers.

Fresh Fruit

Choose fruit that will keep for a while, like oranges or apples, and advise your friend to keep the fruit in the refrigerator.

Dried Fruit

This a great gift because it will keep for a long time and there are so many choices: pineapple, apples, bananas, mangoes, peaches, papayas, and the list goes on.

Homemade Dried Soup Mix

If your friend is able to do some light cooking, these mixes are a good choice. There are many online sites where you can get recipes. You layer ingredients such as dry split peas, lentils, macaroni, dried minced onions, beef bouillon granules, and herbs in a mason jar. You tie a ribbon around the jar with the recipe attached. The recipe may call for some additional ingredients such as diced tomatoes, etc.

You could also make a donation to a local nonprofit organization involved with food and nutrition. Some suggestions include Franklin County Home Care Corporation’s Meals on Wheels Program, Franklin County Community Meals Program, or The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield is a wonderful supporter of LifePath. To show that they care this December, they're offering a special promotion. If you bring this coupon between Sunday, December 14, and Saturday, December 20, 2014, 15% of your purchase total (pre-tax) will be donated to LifePath!

Have fun picking out a book for your loved one and one or two for you, and feel good shopping locally AND giving back to your local community organization!

Coupons come three to a sheet, so keep one for yourself and give away the rest to some friends.

You can download and print out your coupons here. 

The hot, noontime meal that Meals on Wheels volunteer driver, Chris, delivers to Jack’s home often means the difference between eating and going hungry.

Jack Lynch

“The chicken is my favorite,” Jack smiles.

“I was pronounced dead on arrival at Mercy Hospital but I only died for a few minutes.” He gets a twinkle in his eye and continues, “But the devil threw me out for selling ice cubes.”

Like many other Vietnam veterans, Jack began struggling with health problems at a fairly young age. He had his first heart attack at 35.

Jack went on to have five more heart attacks in the following years and eventually had to go on permanent disability from his job as a custodian.

He and his wife Cindy do what they can to make their money stretch to the end of each month, including yard work and odd jobs to help their landlord maintain the property where they rent an apartment in Greenfield.

Jack squeezes Cindy’s hand as they sit close together on the front porch of their top floor apartment. “She’s my sweet heart.”

The Meals on Wheels program at LifePath provides elders, such as Jack, much more than a home-delivered meal. Volunteer drivers do a wellness check with each meal delivery and often become friends with their clients.

Jack was very touched when his Meals on Wheels driver, Chris, attended his first wife’s funeral and then, several years later, his wedding when he finally got remarried to Cindy.

Jack, age 62, is just one of the over 900 clients LifePath is proud to serve in its “Meals on Wheels” program each year.

Learn more about becoming a volunteer Meals on Wheels driver here.