|No Frill’s owner Brian Macdonald with Sophie Davies-Hales, mom Dana and their newly certified Autism Services Dog Crosby
Meet Sophie. She has a riot of dark brown curls, cheeks as round as apples, a little brother who likes to play dressup and a big sister. Sophie also has a whole host of largely invisible special needs, and now an autism service dog that shadows her every move. Sophie was adopted as a baby by Mom Dana Davies-Hales and Tony Hales. She was three when she was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Neurological Developmental disorder ( a condition that falls under the umbrella term of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, caused by prenatal alcohol exposure, and PDD-NOS ( pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified – on the autism spectrum). She runs, is impulsive, lags developmentally, has significant sensory issues, and generally isn’t aware of danger. Before her diagnosis, Mom and Dad began researching ways to better help their child be safe and grow to become independent in the world and they kept coming back to the idea of a service dog. Tonight they met with No Frill’s owner Brian Macdonald to thank him for their contributions to President’s Choice Children’s Charities. The charity supports children with disabilities and Macdonald noted often that means helping to give families funds to modify their vehicle for a wheelchair. The charity gave $10,000 towards the extensive training involved in getting Crosby ready to help Sophie. Macdonald said he doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to meet with the people their charity helps and it was great to see the impact their fundraising can have in person.
There are many ways to access a service dog, but a lot of them can be very expensive because of the training involved. Dana and Tony discovered Autism Dog Services (http://www.autismdogservices.ca/
) They are local to southwestern Ontario. “We just wanted to do the best thing for Sophie,” Dana said. “Sophie has many meltdowns because of overstimulation, noises, sounds, lights. A service dog will help keep her calm and grounded. Before a service dog it was hard to take Sophie out in public because she would have many melt downs. She still sometimes has a hard time but is able to stay out longer because of having a service dog.”
Wade Beattie is the founder and director of ADS. He began his career as a guide dog trainer/instructor at Canine Vision Canada and for the past 13 years, has worked with children with autism and their families. He has collaborated with some of the world’s leading guide and service dog trainers and was a pioneer in bringing autism service dogs to Canada. Crosby comes with a price tag of $18,000 and the Davies-Hales family has been actively raising money for well over one year. They’ve done barbecues and craft sales, collected pop cans and raffled off Westjet tickets. Needless to say the $10,000 contribution made by President’s Choice goes a long way. The store constantly runs fundraisers in store. Customers can contribute at checkout or during specific campaigns.
Autism Dog Services is a non profit organization. They are not funded by government, but rather the support of the community and their donations, as well as fundraisers from the community and the wait list families.
To date the family has raised $13,000. They are still hoping to raise the remainder – about $5,000 by the end of the year through donations and various fundraisers.
“Crosby offically became a certified service dog a few weeks ago when he passed the public access test. We couldn’t be happier,” said Dana.
In time Crosby is expected to help Sophie become more independent and simply calm her down when she begins to bolt or have a meltdown. Service dogs are beginning to be used with a wider range of disabilities than they once were. Children with FASD and/or autism have been shown to benefit often from the relationship, the grounding effect the dog has and the simple fact that the animal can help improve socialization skills. As well service dogs can help bridge the gap between children with Autism and society.
The costs of a service dog broken down are:
♥ purchase cost of the dog
♥ dog food
♥ veterinary care until the dog is transitioned into the new family’s home (approx. 18 mths to 2 years)
♥ training for parents in the care and handling of the dog
♥ training the child and dog together as a team
♥ equipment and identification
♥ ongoing support as required for the working life of the dog
Or about $650 a month to train, foster and provide equipment, food and veterinary care.