Williamsburg pianist loves life with new assistance dog Eaton

Assistance dog Eaton and his owner Andrew Ranaudo, of Williamsburg. / Marissa Guidoboni

As a classically trained pianist, Andrew Ranaudo depends on the flexibility of his fingers to dance across the keys.

But somedays, it takes all his energy to just get out of bed.

The 36-year-old Williamsburg resident suffers from a form of arthritis that has limited the mobility in his spine and hips.

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Enter Eaton: a four-legged helper who gives Ranaudo 24-hour support in everything from picking up dropped items to keeping his balance.

Eaton and Ranaudo recently met at an intensive two-week training course at Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit that pairs assistance dogs with people who experience a range of disabilities, and completed the course together.

The two bonded quickly after their first meeting.

“Any match would have been an amazing match, but with this dog it was like love at first sight,” Ranaudo said of the 2-year-old Labrador retriever. “It’s hard to overstate how excited I am about the change in my life.”

Arthritis has slowed Ranaudo’s daily routine and forced him to stop playing piano professionally. He teaches students but has to be mindful of bending and standing in any one position for too long.

“The act of getting out of bed and then just warming up over the morning takes hours,” he said.

His condition can also cause painful gastrointestinal issues.

Not surprisingly, Ranaudo said his hands are in good shape from years of playing and exercise.

When Ranaudo heard about Canine Companions for Independence, he put his name on a waiting list. But he was concerned his condition would not be considered severe enough, even as he arrived at CCI’s Long Island facility for training.

“I felt like I wasn’t entitled to a dog,” he recalled. “The trainer told me a lot of people feel that way.”

Those reservations melted away during the intensive sessions. Eaton didn’t hesitate to help his sometimes-wobbly partner or pick up items. Eaton’s snuggly nature and warm fur also acted as a natural heating pad for Ranaudo’s achy joints.

“The fact that Andrew’s disability may be invisible reinforces our position that many people who have disabilities can be helped by one of our highly trained dogs,” said Debra Dougherty, executive director of Canine Companions for Independence Northeast Region.

Ranaudo said Eaton’s temperament should help make the dog’s transition to Brooklyn life a smooth one.

“Nothing seems to startle him,” he said, crediting Tom and Jennifer Newton, who raised Eaton on a farm in Virginia. Tom is a veterinarian.

Canine Companions does not charge people who are matched with dogs. The group depends on volunteer puppy-raisers to help socialize the pooches and make sure they grow up healthy. At 18 months old, the pups come back to CCI to receive professional training. Only about 40 percent of the young dogs pass the training to be matched with a person.

The Newtons are now raising a third puppy for the nonprofit.

“I know they will make an awesome team, and Eaton will work hard to help him in so many ways,” Tom Newton said. “It is so gratifying to see our graduates go out into the world and change people’s lives.”