For the autistic, service dogs offer solace

Chris Nash always keeps one eye on his oldest son. "He loves swinging. He's a monkey," said Nash, watching Brendan play on the family's jungle gym. Brendan spends hours playing on the equipment. “He’s got the hands of a 50-year-old labourer."

Chris Nash always keeps one eye on his oldest son.

“He loves swinging. He’s a monkey,” said Nash, watching Brendan play on the family’s jungle gym.

Brendan spends hours playing on the equipment. “He’s got the hands of a 50-year-old labourer. He’s just full of callouses. He just swings all day.”

But there are some restrictions on his play. He needs to watch out for his dog, Roscoe.

“Don’t jump on the dog, Brendan, OK?” Nash reminds his seven-year-old. Brendan keeps playing, the black Labrador below.

Brendan isn’t at a jungle gym in a playground. He’s swinging from a bar in his family’s home. This does more than give him a safe place to burn off energy. It also keeps him stimulated.

Brendan may be a little monkey, but living with him can be like riding a roller-coaster, said Nash.

When Brendan was three, he was diagnosed with autism. His parents noticed their son didn’t always make eye contact, his speech was delayed and he would wiggle his fingers in self-stimulation. Transitions or slight changes in schedules would disrupt him. He had to wait for the final drop of water to drain before leaving the bathtub.

And he would bolt. Brendan doesn’t always have the best spatial awareness. At the Canada Games Centre, at the grocery store, he would often take off running. That’s why the Nashes have Roscoe, who is an autism service dog from the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides. He came to live with the family two years ago.

And he’s changed the family’s life.

Autism service dogs provide safety and companionship for children aged between three and 18 who have autism. Roscoe wears a maroon harness. There are two leashes attached to it. His father will hold one, and Brendan wears another around his wrist. This keeps the younger Nash from running away. When Brendan is older, he’ll be able to walk Roscoe on his own, said Nash.

Roscoe helps relieve Brendan’s anxiety when the family’s out in public by giving him something to focus on. Before, eating at a restaurant could be a challenge for the family; they were never sure what would happen, said Nash.

Now, with Roscoe lying at Brendan’s feet, eating out becomes less stressful. And so is life at home. Brendan’s sleep schedule is erratic, at best. Roscoe sleeps at the foot of his bed to keep Brendan calm. Since Roscoe’s come, his sleep schedule has become more regular.

Brendan’s come a long way in the last few years, said Nash.

So has the dog – literally. He’s the first autism service dog in the North.

Roscoe was trained at the foundation’s national headquarters in Oakville, Ont. The national charity trains dogs to help people who are blind or visually impaired or deaf or hard of hearing. The charity also trains dogs for people who have various illnesses or disabilities. Some dogs can detect if their diabetic owner is about to go into shock, or can alert people when an epileptic owner has a seizure. It costs about $20,000 to raise and train each dog. The foundation provides the dogs for free to the owners, although they have to pay for food and veterinary costs once they bring them home. The charity receives no government funding.

Brendan’s autism prompted his father to investigate getting a dog for his son. Like many people with autism, Brendan would become fascinated with specific items. Right now, he loves Smarties and licence plates. But at one time, he was obsessed with dogs. Nash decided to find more information. He applied for the program in the summer of 2010.

The next spring, one of the foundation’s trainers came up to visit the family. And in June 2011, Nash travelled to Ontario to spend a week with Roscoe, learning commands and how to care for the dog. The two travelled to different places in the community and built trust. Then, they flew up to Whitehorse and Roscoe began working with Brendan.

Nash wants others to understand how important service dogs are. Each year, the Lions Foundation of Dog Guides hosts the Purina Walk for Dog Guides. The event raises money so the charity can keep providing the dogs for free. This is the second year Nash has organized the walk for Whitehorse. It will take place this Sunday at 2 p.m. Participants will meet at Rotary Park and walk the Millennium Trail. Owners are welcome to bring their dogs.

And Brendan’s hoping that some of his friends will come out for the walk, too.

Roscoe doesn’t go to school with Brendan because his parents decided that wasn’t necessary. He has an educational assistant, and does fairly well. They want Brendan to be independent, said Nash. But sometimes things can be lonely.

“He doesn’t have a huge group of friends,” said Nash, when asked what the greatest thing Roscoe provides is. “But he knows when he comes home, he’s got a best friend.”

Or, as Brendan put it, “I love him,” he said.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited internet options beginning Dec. 1. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet for some available Dec. 1

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited… Continue reading

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Most Read