Assistance Dogs Offer Independence, Safety
Parents of children
with disabilities from autism to ADHD are turning to specially trained service
dogs to enrich the lives of their children. These dogs not only offer
therapeutic companionship, but also can keep their partners safe while at the
same time enhancing their independence.
Circleville, Ohio – September 15, 2008 – 4 Paws for Ability, a nonprofit organization located in Xenia, Ohio, trains and places service dogs for persons with disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy to epilepsy to autism. They specialize in placements with people who are turned away by many other agencies. Their most requested and most often placed type of service dog is the autism assistance dog, which can help children and their families in surprising ways.
Five-year-old Amelia Freeman of Circleville, Ohio, has a variety of developmental delays that make her life challenging. She is unable to talk, and appears to understand only a few words. Although she has not been diagnosed with autism, she displays a number of characteristics typical of an autistic child. Amelia has been given the opportunity to receive an autism assistance dog from 4 Paws for Ability.
Amelia is unable to tell her parents “I love you,” to cuddle a doll, to play catch or draw a picture. There is no way to know what caused her condition or to predict her outcome. Although she is five years old, in terms of social and emotional development she is like a child of about two years. Her mother, Lori, says, “It’s like having a toddler who is as tall and strong as a five-year-old, who can unlock and open doors and get past every safety measure we can put in place.”
Most frightening for her parents, Amelia has no fear. “She has no concept of personal safety,” says Lori. “Amelia has no awareness of the danger of traffic, deep water, or the ill intentions of a stranger. She also has a fascination with water and a tendency to be an ‘escape artist,’ and generally does not respond to her father’s or my calls. Combine these traits and you have a recipe for disaster!”
The autism assistance dog will be trained to accompany Amelia everywhere, and can be tethered to her with a special harness to prevent her from running into traffic or getting lost. Without this safety measure, her parents must keep a firm grip on her hand everywhere they go.
An important facet of the dog’s training will be the ability to track. If Amelia were to find an opportunity to wander off out of her parents’ sight, the dog will quickly follow her trail and lead her parents to her, even if she has been missing for quite a while.
The dog will also be trained to comfort Amelia, to disrupt her sensory-seeking behaviors such as hand-flapping, and help her calm herself when she is frustrated. It will also act as a “social magnet,” making it easier for other children to approach Amelia and make friends. In spite of her sweet disposition, Amelia’s strange behaviors — such as her loud, wordless vocalizations — tend to cause other children to avoid her rather than seeking her out; a furry companion would change that instantly, perhaps helping her to blossom socially in a way that would otherwise not be possible.
Finally, but by no means least importantly, the dog will do what any other dog might do — love and be loved, loyally and unconditionally.
4 Paws for Ability is one of only a handful of organizations that will even place a dog with such a young child. Many agencies will not place service dogs with children, or in homes where there are other pets; 4 Paws has no eligibility requirements beyond a physician’s statement that the person requesting a service dog has a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Many trainers have long waiting lists with a wait of up to five years, but 4 Paws reduces that waiting time, by having the parents work with them to fundraise the up to $14,000 needed to cover the cost of the extensive training. States their website: “We felt that there were many, very capable people with disabilities and their friends and families, who would rather spend time helping us fundraise so they could then get a dog, than to sit on a 2-5 year waiting list for a ‘free’ one.”
4 Paws for Ability is a recognized leader in training autism assistance dogs, and pioneered training assistance dogs with tracking ability. They have placed well over one hundred autism service dogs to date. 4 Paws trains a variety of assistance dogs, including (but not limited to) seizure assistance, mobility assistance, hearing ear, and autism assistance dogs. As of July 7, 2008, 311 teams had graduated from 4 Paws.
As with most of 4 Paws’ animals, Amelia’s dog will probably be rescued from a shelter. Over 75 percent of their dogs come from shelters. Some of them have been saved only days before they were scheduled to be put down, and have gone on to transform the lives of the children with whom they have been placed. 4 Paws uses any dog that can pass the medical, physical, obedience and training requirements, regardless of breed. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship — 4 Paws will be bringing freedom and independence to a dog in need, and the dog in turn will bring freedom and independence to Amelia.
Many of the dogs begin their training by serving a little time in the “Rover Prison Rehab Program.” This program helps the dogs by giving them constant 24-hour care and training, and helps inmates experience unconditional love and gives them a chance to do something positive and uplifting. The dogs then go on to help, support and change the lives of the children they are placed with.
The 4 Paws website states: “We have discovered a magic that exists between children and dogs, a magic that can become a life-saving miracle for a child paired with one of our autism assistance dogs.”
To find out more about Amelia’s journey, visit 4paws4amelia.blogspot.com. For more information on 4 Paws for Ability, go to 4pawsforability.org.
Donations can be sent
4 Paws for Ability
253 Dayton Ave.
If donating specifically
for Amelia Freeman, be sure to note “In Honor of Amelia Freeman” on the memo
line of your check.
Contact: Lori Freeman
Cell Phone: 740-571-1977