Health & Wellness

Brothers with Rare Vision/Hearing Condition Receive Companion Dog

Scotch Plains residents Ethan (left) and Gavin Morrobel (right), pictured here with Erickson, both suffer from a rare combined hearing and vision loss condition known as Usher syndrome. Credits: John Mooney
The boys learned commands that Erickson can fulfill.
Ethan and Gavin Morrobel have raised awareness of Usher's Syndrome and Canine Companions.

SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – Thanks to Canine Companions for Independence – a non-profit organization providing highly trained assistance dogs for children adults, and veterans with disabilities – a Scotch Plains family has received an assistance dog in effort to help accommodate two brother’s daily needs while offering an important sense of companionship.

Gavin and Ethan Morrobel, brothers ages 12 and 14, both suffer from Usher's Syndrome, an inherited condition characterized by progressive vision loss and hearing impairment. They were matched with Erickson III, a two-year-old lab/golden retriever mix trained to respond to over 40 advanced commands.

Both boys were born deaf and suffered from balance troubles.They were issued cochlear implants shortly after birth, which enabled them to hear. Additionally, they are both visually impaired. Researchers estimate that approximately 25,000 Americans live with Usher syndrome, the leading cause of combined deafness and blindness worldwide, according to The Foundation Fighting Blindness.

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After participating in a two-week team training program held at Canine Companion’s Northeast Regional Center, Gavin and Ethan came home with Erickson, who helps with routine daily activities to help improve the quality of life that the boys live as the disease progresses.

“The boys really wanted a dog, but, I was worried about their safety. They weren’t qualified for seeing-eye dogs, and, with my concerns regarding a traditional dog," says their mom, Pam Morrobel. “The boys are starting to settle into a routine with Erickson. We hope to have many wonderful years with him.”

While the dog does not go with them to school, he attends appointments with them and accompanies them to many outdoor events, especially in large crowds.

Pam Morrobel credits Erickson with helping her boys make the adjustment from moving to Scotch Plains from Canada three years ago. She says that he has helped them develop confidence and self-esteem. Although they are only a young age, Gavin and Ethan are ambassadors for bringing awareness to Usher syndrome and will speak at the Center for Hearing and Communication's 19th annual Golf Tournament at the Fenway Golf Club in Scarsdale, NY, on Monday, May 15. 

Canine Companions for Independence is the largest non-profit provider of trained assistance dogs with six regional training centers across the country, including CA, FL, OH, NY and TX. The organization has placed over 5,000 assistance dogs since 1975. Canine Companions provides trained assistance dogs to children, adults and veterans with disabilities.  There is no charge for the dog, its training and on-going follow-up services.  For more information, visit or call 1-800-572-BARK.

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