Autism assistance dogs trained in Banbury are a vital lifeline to families during coronavirus lockdown

Dogs trained at a specialist Banbury facility to help children with autism are proving to be more important than ever during the lockdown.

By Roseanne Edwards
Monday, 13th April 2020, 10:21 am
Updated Monday, 13th April 2020, 10:22 am
Ty and his assistance dog Denby and Ty's brothers Jude, Ethan and Jacob
Ty and his assistance dog Denby and Ty's brothers Jude, Ethan and Jacob

Dogs for Good provide these amazing and highly-trained animals to 50 families who have children with autism and many people with a disability or illness. And the charity is doing its best to support those who need them despite the significant challenges of the last few weeks.

"The value of assistance dogs for families with autistic children has never been more apparent than during these unprecedented times," said chief executive Peter Gorbing.

“Many parents of children with autism will be facing increased challenges just now. But people who have a dog in their household can really benefit from maintaining some kind of routine that their dogs crave.

Ty and his assistance dog Denby

“For example, dogs tend to remind us pretty forcibly when it is time for them to eat, they have a rhythm to their day that can help us to keep some kind of structure in our daily lives and of course, they need to go out for walks. For many families we’re working with, dogs play a really crucial role in helping to reduce anxieties and give a positive focus to help give some structure and routine.”

Mr Gorbing said Dogs for Good has a number of assistance dog owners with a disability or illness who are in the high-risk category and may be feeling even more socially isolated than before the lockdown.

“We’re doing all we can to support them by telephone, email and video calls right now and of course their dogs are providing a vital lifeline, not just for practical help but also on an emotional level through unconditional love and companionship," he said.

"Demand for our services remains high and in the coming weeks and months we will continue to do all we can to support clients, their dogs, our staff and volunteers in any way we can.”

Emily Chilvers with assistance dog Oslo and dad Steven

Life has drastically improved for Northamptonshire family Selina, Paul, Ty, Jude (both nine), Ethan, 15, and Jacob, 13. Ty is autistic and is being helped a lot by his assistance dog, Denby.

Ty no longer runs away because he stays at Denby’s side when they are out. He’s less frightened of things because he focuses on Denby and he enjoys regular cuddles with the dog which keeps him calm. The family has been able to go out to normal events and to eat out.

Emily Chilvers was diagnosed with autism when she was two and a half years old. Emily, now six years old, is a non-identical twin and her sister understandably found it hard to share life with a sibling who didn’t connect with her, hit out at her in frustration and who she wasn’t able to share a bond or positive relationship with. The family ended up, as many families with autistic children do, doing things separately; one parent would take Olivia out while the other stayed at home with Emily.

Dad Stephen said: “It’s the simple things that you miss. Reading social media posts from friends who have been doing fun stuff all together as a family - meals out, shopping, holidays etc, Emily’s autism meant those things were almost entirely closed off to us.”

While Emily found it a struggle to form positive connections with humans, it was clear from an early age that she bonds closely with animals. The right match came in the form of a tall, gangly, handsome black Labrador called Oslo who started his new life with Steven, Emily and the rest of the family in Long Buckby, Northants in July last year. His presence has made a very big difference.

“Emily’s speech has really come on,” said Steven. “She will say ‘Oslo’, ‘hug’ and ‘doggy’ now as well as sentences such as ‘take Oslo for a walk’. In addition, she wasn’t ever great at getting up but now, we send Oslo into her bedroom in the morning armed with sniffs and licks and all we hear is Emily giggling - obviously a far better way for her to start the day.

"She’s really happy being with him and the other day, she even sat down beside him to give him a cuddle. For a non-cuddly child, that’s a big thing and a clear demonstration of her bond with him.”

Best of all, because of Oslo’s calming presence, the family is now able to go on outings and on holiday together. Oslo has fitted in very quickly and naturally.

"We can’t imagine life without him now," said Steven.

For more information or to donate visit the Dogs for Good website here.