Five dogs who changed children’s lives
By Assistance Dogs Australia
The love between a dog and a child is a special one that deepens over time as they grow up together. Together, they can play and understand each other like no-one else can.
Dogs bring something special to everyone’s lives, but when it comes to children living with a disability, a fully-trained Assistance Dog can bring a whole transformation where it seemed impossible before.
Autism and Mobility Assistance Dogs have a huge impact on the growth and development of a child. Their love can transform, especially for a child who is living with a disability.
These dogs are opening the doors to a brighter future, and providing a crucial intervention at an important part of their young lives.
Here are some highly-trained Assistance Dogs who have transformed children with their love and knowledge.
Charlotte and Letty
Charlotte is ten years of age but is well behind her peers. She can’t read or write yet, and didn’t say her first words until she was seven years old.
Charlotte is not like other children. She has Autism, ADHD, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, and a severe intellectual disability, among other conditions.
With Letty the Assistance Dog, Charlotte is more open to the world. She is able to do more things children her age enjoy, like camping.
But she is also now able to do more everyday things that will help her grow up to be an independent adult, like going to the shops. Coco, Charlotte’s mum, told me:
“Charlotte is making huge progress because of Letty the Assistance Dog. She is safer, happier, and learning more. We can’t believe how much she has changed.”
Noah and Claudia
Noah, a cheeky, intelligent and curious little boy, needed something extraordinary to help him navigate life with autism.
Because of his Assistance Dog Claudia, Noah has been able to get more out of school, make friends, explore and understand his wider world, and become more responsible for himself and his new furry ‘sister’. His mum, Kate, said:
“Noah’s meltdowns are less. His anger is less. He’s still anxious, there’s no doubt about it, but she can calm and soothe him in ways that I can’t.
“We have done so much therapy, and yet Claudia has made such a significant difference in such a short time.”
Alessia and Ebony
Alessia, 14, has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, which limits the use of her arms and legs.
As Alessia has entered her teen years and started high school, she has wanted more independence and to be able to do more things on her own.
With Ebony the Assistance Dog happily by Alessia’s side, Alessia has more freedom and confidence to achieve more in school, pursue her interests, and make new friends.
The difference Ebony has made is astonishing. Alessia’s mum, Christine, said:
“Having Ebony in Alessia’s life, I feel is the best thing for her. I feel now Alessia is motivated and she’s ready to meet any challenges that come her way, as she enters adulthood. Alessia is going to have a great life and I think Ebony is going to help her to achieve that.”
Byron and Zeus
Byron has Down syndrome and non-verbal autism. Because his Assistance Dog, Zeus, understands hand signals, as well as spoken words for cues, Byron finally has another much-needed way to communicate through his non-verbal autism.
Zeus was also trained to pick up rising stress levels, and can now prevent a meltdown by jumping into Byron’s lap before it happens and calming him down.
Zeus is a source of unspoken understanding, love, and boundless patience for Byron, and this changed his world completely.
Dad Mick is amazed by how much his son has changed since clever Zeus joined their family. He said:
“Assistance Dogs give children with a disability a lot more independence, enjoyment, satisfaction in their lives.
Without the support, I know that if Byron didn’t have Zeus it would be so much harder for us and for Byron to function.”
Oisin and Izzie
When it comes to parenting a child with autism and an intellectual disability, there is no easy answer. Parents Paul and Rachael had tried everything to help their ten-year-old son, Oisin, but he still faced many difficulties in everyday life.
Assistance Dog Izzie is a calming influence who keeps Oisin’s anxiety in check. His anxiety made doing everyday things, like going to the shops, extremely complicated.
For example, Oisin was prone to running off, which was extremely dangerous and terrifying for his family. Oisin’s dad, Paul, said:
“Prior to Izzie, we would rarely take Oisin out to the shops. If we did, we would have to plan it as a military exercise and have procedures in place for different scenarios.
Now, we are able to take him out and relax, knowing that Izzie is with us. He will happily walk around a shopping centre holding on to Izzie’s lead. Izzie reduces his anxiety — and ours.”
Her intelligence, advanced skills and her loving nature have been the missing piece of the puzzle Oisin needed to cope with the world.