Helen & Issac's Assistance Dog Journey

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22 July 2021
by Helen Collier

Isaac is 12 years old and in 2019 was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Social Communication and Attention Skill Difficulties. He also struggles with sensory processing. This means that a lot of things that most of us take for granted are a daily struggle for Isaac - clothing, smells, food, interacting with others, and controlling his behaviour can all cause him problems. 

Isaac is animal obsessed - in particular dogs. For a while, we had been considering getting a dog for Isaac to help keep him calm and less anxious. In 2020 we discovered a page on Facebook called Supporting Paws, run by an assistance dog organisation based in South East England, primarily providing Autism and Neuro disability support dogs. We contacted them and had a long discussion about Isaac and his needs, and they agreed that he may benefit from having his own assistance dog. We sent in the application and were invited to meet with them and a couple of their dogs in training to see how Isaac interacted with them. After a very successful meeting with them in July 2020, we were accepted onto their program. 

Although this was extremely exciting for us and Isaac, we had to then raise £8,000 to pay for the cost of the dog and the year of training that would follow. We were very daunted by this as it is a huge sum of money and bearing in mind we were then in the middle of a global pandemic, we knew this wasn’t going to be easy. 

We hadn’t realised the force of the town we live in and with the help of a recently set up Facebook group called Disco Kitchen, we organised a weekend of music at our local football club. This raised us almost £3,000 from ticket sales and donations on the day. We had a local pub quiz and raffle organised for us, a 5K run, and a local market stall selling cakes and handmade items. All of this along with the generosity of family, friends, and even strangers, we managed to exceed our target only three months after we started! 

Isaac’s dog Jackson was born in December 2020 and we got to meet him for the first time in February 2021. He lives with Supporting Paws during his training, but we have him stay from time to time to help Isaac form a bond with him. We also visit for training days to help us to understand how to manage a dog in a community setting, anything from going on buses, into shops and even restaurants. All things that we wouldn’t usually do with Isaac alone because he finds these things difficult.

Our hope is that an assistance dog will help him grow in confidence and encourage him to get out more. We removed Isaac from school in October 2019 due to issues with his behavior and he has been homeschooled since. We believe an assistance dog will help Isaac to get out of the house on a daily basis whilst keeping his anxiety at a manageable level. At some point, he would like to return to school and with the help of an assistance dog, we believe this might be possible. 

Isaac’s journey with Jackson is being documented on his Facebook page – Assistance Dog for Isaac.

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