Autism Team | Sault St. Marie, ON
Pet Valu has partnered with Lion’s Foundation of Canada Dog Guides nationally to help raise funds and awareness for the valuable services they provide that are provide at no cost to the recipient. Every Guide Dog is trained in one of six specialized programs: Canine Vision, Hearing Ear, Service, Seizure Response, Autism Assistance and Diabetic Alert.
One of our teams is Owen and his dog Lewis from the Autism Assistance program. Autism Assistance Dog Guides provide safety, companionship and unconditional love to their companions. Dog Guides provide a calming relief for children with anxiety associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and reduce the stress commonly experienced in public places.
Owen is 6 years old and has severe Autism and is non-verbal. Because of this he is easily distracted and unaware of danger, “This can make life very stressful, especially now that Owen is getting bigger and faster” says Owen’s mother Kari. After attending a presentation for Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, Kari and her husband applied for Owen to receive a dog. With an invisible disability such as Autism, many are not understanding of Owen’s needs and interactions, “Because of Lewis and his red harness that reads “Autism Assistance Dog Guide” on it people now recognize that Owen has an invisible disability and are more understanding” says Kari.
Lewis is a Labrador and Golden Retriever cross who is energetic, loving, extremely gentle with Owen and very patient. “Lewis provides companionship, unconditional love and never judges Owen” remarks Kari. Thanks to Lewis, Owen is able to safely explore his world; according to Kari “We can put a belt on Owen and attach him to Lewis’ harness with a 3ft tether. This gives Owen the freedom to walk independently without us having a firm grip on his arm and also gives us peace of mind knowing that he is safe.” Lewis is trained to brace himself or lay down if Owen tries to run or walk into a dangerous situation. He will also work to gently redirect Owen if needed. By holding the handle on Lewis’ harness, Owen is able to have something to focus on making him less distracted and more comfortable with his surroundings. “Lewis is also taught a “HUGS” command, if Owen is getting overwhelmed and needs to be grounded, I can sit Owen down and tell Lewis “HUGS” and he will lay his front paws over Owen’s lap and sit with him which makes Owen feel secure” says Kari.
Although Lewis is proud to wear his red harness and aid Owen, he also gets plenty of time to play and enjoy his life with his new family.
How can you help fellow Canadian’s like Owen? Kari can tell you better than anyone “If you are able to donate to this cause, you will be helping to change people’s lives in so many ways, every dollar counts! Lewis is a true blessing in our life and I would love for more families to have this same experience.”