PEPPERELL — Sometimes dreams really do come true — with a lot of hard work and determination.
Romeo, a white golden retriever with a cheerful, multicolored vest, is Olivia Twigg’s dream.
The highly-trained service dog does just about everything with his 10-year-old charge. He goes to school with her, watches cheerleading practice and sleeps with her, alerting her mother when Olivia is having a seizure.
He was not even trained to detect seizures, said Jill Twigg, Olivia’s mother. He just can.
But, even with all the proper training and with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Romeo was not welcome at the mall.
A trip to Pheasant Lane in Nashua, N.H. on Black Friday ended in disappointment. Olivia was not allowed to sit on Santa’s lap for a photo while Romeo watched from the rug.
Santa said he was allergic. Mall employees told Twigg to take the dog off the rug and suggested the Twiggs return on pet day or Caring Santa day for children with special needs. The company offered to send a Santa to their home.
Twigg did not play along. Romeo is a service dog, not a pet.
“We try and give Olivia the most normal life that we can,” she said.
“Generally … entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go,” according to www.ada.gov.
Olivia left the mall sad that her best friend, Romeo, could not see Santa. Because of her developmental delays, she did not completely understand what happened, Twigg said.
Her brother Adam, 9, left his belief in Santa behind at the mall, which saddens Twigg. Aiden, at 2, was too young to understand
Twigg, furious, went on Facebook to let the greater community know what happened. “If you don’t know the laws, you should educate yourself about the laws,” she said.
Two Boston television channels produced stories. Other Santas reached out. The Twiggs received an invitation to a party with other families with service dogs.
“The community’s been amazing, Twigg said. Her phone was “blowing up” all weekend.
“It was horrible,” she said in her next breath.
As a young child, doctors diagnosed Olivia with Rhett Syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder with physical and developmental effects. When Olivia hits puberty, her symptoms will increase and she will probably lose the ability to walk. She may not live into adulthood.
For Twigg, it was imperative to get a dog while her daughter could interact with it.
Romeo came with a $25,000 price tag. Twigg raised funds tirelessly but she was at the point of taking out a loan for the final $5,000 when a couple of things came together.
The Nashoba Valley Voice wrote an article about the family’s need. Before it was even printed, a Boston radio station spotted the article online and invited Olivia and her mother to the morning talk show.
Within minutes, Mix 104.1 listeners contributed the rest of the money the Twiggs needed to get a dog.
A trainer from Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers delivered the young dog in June. Since then, trainers have returned to adjust the dog’s behaviors as Olivia and Romeo learn to interact.
Romeo is not a pet. He does his job, on duty whenever his vest is on. The vest comes off at home and he can be a house dog then, Twigg said.
Even so, his eye is always on Olivia, his best friend.