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Why a Bucksport teen can’t be without his service dog Chico, even as water rises

Chico, a pit bull terrier, lays in the shade underneath a mobile home in the Bucksport area. Chico is a service dog who helps Dillan Bowman, a 17-year old living with autism.
Chico, a pit bull terrier, lays in the shade underneath a mobile home in the Bucksport area. Chico is a service dog who helps Dillan Bowman, a 17-year old living with autism. jbell@thesunnews.com

Chico and Dillan Bowman are inseparable. Chico is a pit bull service dog and the best friend of Dillan Bowman, a 17-year-old with autism.

The Bowman family lives in a camper in the Bucksport Marina, which is threatened with flooding after Hurricane Florence. Dana Bowman, Dillan’s mom, now has to decide if her and her son should stay or go. Her son is worried about leaving his dog, a registered service dog.

Dana Bowman said Dillan has made up his mind: he doesn’t want to leave their home.

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Bucksport resident Dana Bowman stands in front of her home in the Bucksport area Thursday. Bowman is taking preparations to keep her husband and her 17-year old autistic son Dillan safe from the expected flooding. Josh Bell jbell@thesunnews.com

The family experienced flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, losing almost everything they had. They had to evacuate twice for Matthew as flood levels rose. But flooding from Florence is expected to break records, making it difficult to tell where the river will crest.

Cuthbert Langley, with the American Red Cross, said his organization understands the uncertainty and fear people may have with seeking shelter.

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Leaving Chico was not an option for the family. Dana said her son needs his service dog and refuses to abandon him. Service dogs are often used to calm, comfort and even locate people living with autism.

During Matthew, Dana Bowman said a Red Cross volunteer told the Bowmans that while most service dogs are allowed in shelters, pit bulls were not.

Langley said all service dogs are permitted in the shelters and that there must have been some confusion at the shelter.

Red Cross shelters have nurses on site to help with the stress people entering the shelter may feel. Langley also said accommodations can be made for people with medical conditions, just let the shelter’s staff know when you arrive.

Dana Bowman said she has had a positive experience with the Red Cross this week, and volunteers have been helpful in deciding if she should leave. But her situation is a tough one. The threat of losing his dog and being surrounded by strangers makes Dillan determined to stay.

“Now, I can’t physically make him go to a shelter,” Dana Bowman said.

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Dillan Bowman and his dog Chico. Dillan refuses to be separated from his dog, even as flood levels rise. Dana Bowman

Further, If the family does decide to leave, they will be abandoning their camper and their stuff. The camper itself already has mold in it, making Dana Bowman allergic to the house.

They have an SUV that could move the camper, which they bought after Matthew. But they don’t have a place to take the camper to.

Some shelters allow you to park your camper outside. That might be an option if they chose to leave, but they don’t have a generator to keep power going to their home.

For now the family is staying. The Bowmans live on a fixed income and paying to stay in a motel or moving the camper would be a sacrifice. And ultimately Dillan doesn’t want to leave and potentially be in an unfamiliar environment, separated from Chico.

“Taking care of Dillan is what matters now,” Dana Bowman said.

The family has made all the preparations they can to survive if Bucksport Road floods.

She said her husband said if their life is threatened, they will abandon their shelter and their belongings to keep the family safe.

Chico will be with them regardless of what they decide. Leaving him behind is not an option.

“As long as me, my husband, my son and his dog are safe, campers and homes can be replaced,” Dana Bowman said. “If it comes down to it, we will leave and start all over again.”

Follow more of our reporting on Hurricane Florence

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