Autism Assistance Dogs – What you need to know

A guest post from one of our parents whose child didn’t qualify for a support dog, but ultimately found a way.  Thanks Pam  for sharing your experience with us.

In British Columbia, in order for a person with a disability to have public access rights with a service dog, the dog should be trained by a member organization of Assistance Dogs International (“ADI”) (http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org). British Columbia is in the process of enacting a new service dog act (http://www.bccpd.bc.ca/gada.htm) which will confirm this policy. The present legislation, being the existing Guide Animal Act (http://www.bclaws.ca/EPLibraries/bclaws_new/document/ID/freeside/00_96177_01), does allow the Minister to issue a certificate for a dog, however in practice such certificates are generally issued only to dogs trained by ADI organizations.

The only ADI-certified organization training dogs for persons with autism in British Columbia is Autism Support Dogs (http://www.autismsupportdogs.org), which is affiliated with BC & Alberta Guide Dog Services. Unfortunately they are often not taking applications, as they have very long waiting lists, and their criteria is very narrow. In general, when taking applications, they provide dogs to moderately to severely autistic children between 4 and 10 years of age who have a tendency to bolt in public places, among other requirements.

The ADI website lists all nine ADI certified organizations in Canada. Pacific Assistance Dogs is another BC organization, however they do not yet train autism dogs.

Another Canadian ADI certified organization deserves mention – the Lion’s Foundation of Canada, whose website is at http://www.dogguides.com.

The Lion’s Foundation trains dogs in six different program areas – vision, hearing, diabetic alert, service (mobility), seizure response, and… Autism. Their autism program is much more flexible than the BC program. High anxiety in an autistic child combined with a belief by the family and the organization that a dog may help is generally enough to qualify (assuming other factors are met – more information is on the website). The following are notable factors of the Lion’s Foundation’s program, which is in Oakville, Ontario:

  • They serve all of Canada;
  • At present (November, 2013), they estimate their waiting list from the time of first application to be approximately 12 months, however they look for a good match between the family and dog, so dogs may be placed earlier or later;
  • One or both parents go for training for 12 days or so, which training happens 6-8 weeks after a match is made between the family and a dog;
  • Accommodation is at their training facility – accommodations and meals are provided;
  • Air travel to and from Oakville is provided;
  • Once the dog is back home, a trainer visits after a month or so to address any problems;
  • If the family wants the child to take the dog to school, the trainer will return a second time to train the school once the dog has settled in and been with the child for about 6-12 months, depending on the situation. The trainer will be at the school during the child and dog’s first day there;
  • Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are generally used – there are also Standard Poodles available for families with allergies;
  • The child must be between 3 and 18 years of age, however when the dog eventually retires they will replace the dog (and continue to do so), even if the ‘child’ is then over 18, providing the organization and family believe that there continues to be a benefit to the person in having a service dog; and
  • There is NO cost to the families, though of course donations are gratefully accepted.

The situation in Canada with public access rights is very different in most provinces from that in the United States, where federal law provides public access rights to disabled persons with service dogs who are trained by any organization, or even self-trained. These dogs can easily cost $10,000 to $25,000 or more, and a disabled BC resident who has one and brings it to BC would not automatically be entitled to public access rights with such a dog in BC, even if it was trained by a very reputable organization (and there are many) unless the organization is an ADI certified organization, which most aren’t. There are also organizations in Canada who purport to train service dogs. Unless the organization is listed as an ADI member or can provide some other certification from the Minister that a particular dog they have trained is certified for use in BC, then you should assume that a disabled person with such a dog does not have public access rights with the dog.

One more important link is that of the BC government Q&A regarding guide/service dogs http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/guideanimal/q-a.htm

Giving in Action

The Giving in Action family fund is open once again!

The provincial government has given $2,000,000 to the fund in March 2013. This fund provides for a one time grant to families affected by a disability. This grant may be used for home modifications or renovations which will help the individual with special needs or developmental disability live in the family home or access the community.

Traditionally one might consider this for wheelchair access to the home, but there are things that can considerably brighten the lives of children with autism. For example:

  • Creating a secure play area
  • Renovating a room to allow ABA therapy
  • Safety modifications
  • Measures to prevent elopement

This fund will not pay for ABA therapy for your child,but it will give a one-time grant to better their lifestyles. Unlike other charities which ignore the plight of children with autism, the Giving in Action fund has in the past been very accommodating to the needs of our children.

Visit the Giving in Action Family Fund page for more information.