Assistance dog supporting an Alnwick teenager with autism
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Angus is a registered assistance dog for his 14-year-old handler, Thomas, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age seven.
Thomas finds overstimulating environments overwhelming and gets confused if he is given too many instructions at once. He finds it hard to speak to strangers and in asking for help if needed.
Angus’ job is to help by performing ‘deep tissue pressure’ on Thomas, using his paws to press on the large muscle groups in Thomas’s legs and abdomen to release endorphins to counteract the worry and stress.
When Thomas was younger, he would get so overwhelmed that he would run away from his parents and hide to try and find somewhere quiet.
This was a terrifying ordeal, so Angus is trained to locate Tom, guide his parents to him then lie with him calmly (performing deep tissue pressure) until Tom feels ready to re-join the world.
Thomas said: “He’s like my furry brother. I love him so much and I can trust him to keep me safe. I’d be lost without him – probably quite literally!”
Thomas’ mum, Kay Whiteley, trained Angus under her charity, Western Australian Assistance and Therapy Dogs Inc, and has been training guide, assistance and therapy dogs for over 30 years. She knew Angus was destined to be her son’s autism assistance dog since he was a pup.
Kay said: “I was actually training Angus to work with autistic children in an education support unit originally but Angus started reacting to Thomas’s stress levels at home and they just clicked, so I guess it was just meant to be.”
Mother and son recently moved back to the UK, with Angus joining them for the 18 hour trip to support Thomas on the plane.
Kay said: “Everybody always asks about toileting and are concerned that he was uncomfortable but Angus is trained to wee into a nappy and poo into a bag on command so he was given several toilet breaks throughout the journey and a big free run as soon as we arrived.”
Even when calm and relaxed, Angus is working an important job and can’t afford distractions. A few minutes of cuddles could be the difference between Thomas being able to use Angus to calm himself or a full meltdown.
Kay said: "Once that happens, it is so upsetting and stressful for Tom that we often just have to go home and cancel our plans for the rest of the day and all because someone wanted to say hello to a cute dog.”
Since being back, Kay put her expertise into a new business, Alnwick Fear-Free Dog Training, and has received five-star reviews for her novel and personalised approach.
She said: “I have worked with people from all walks of life. If I can teach a dog to alert for low blood sugar, get help if someone has a seizure or empty a washing machine, teaching them not to jump up when a visitor comes to your house is a doddle!”
For pet, assistance or therapy dog training queries, Kay can be contacted on [email protected] or you can find her on Facebook at Alnwick Fear Free Dog Training.