The Sexton family who live just a few miles outside Fermoy town are enjoying their summer days looking after Autism Assistance Puppy, Zeus.
The Labrador Retriever pup which is only 12 weeks old will stay with its foster family in Fermoy until it is around 6 months old and will then be moved to another foster family until it is between 12 and 15 months old.
The dog will then begin intensive training with the highly qualified trainers from Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland (AADI) before being matched with a child with autism who is in need of an assistance dog.
Mona Sexton is a teacher at Loreto secondary School, Fermoy and has always loved dogs. As her children are now adults and she has a bit more time on her hands, she decided she would like care for Autism Assistance Dogs in training.
In the past year she has taken in a number of adult dogs who are in need of a temporary home at weekends or while other foster families are away. However, Zeus is the first Autism Assistance Puppy to come into the Sexton household.
“We are having so much fun with him and he is so well-behaved already. He is toilet trained now and we are introducing him to new experiences like textures, sounds, other dogs and things like that,” Mona told The Avondhu.
He recently went on an escalator for the first time in Mahon Point and is adjusting well to every new situation he is introduced to.
“The key with an assistance dog is socialisation. It has to be used to all types of environments so that it is no longer distracted once it is matched with a child,” explained Carla Ankiah, Head of Fundraising and Communications with Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland.
Once Zeus has been fully trained, he will be then carefully matched with a family and a child based on suitability. Zeus will then allow that child to have a degree of independence, all the while ensuring their safety.
As many children on the autism spectrum are prone to elopement and can be a danger to themselves, the child is tethered to the dog and the dog responds to the commands given by the parent or the guardian. In this way, the dog allows families to go on outings that they may never be in a position to attend without the assistance dog.
Is had also been noted that the assistance dogs help to reduce anxiety levels in children with autism and can become a channel to verbalisation among other positive impacts.
Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland is a registered charity first established in 2010. The head office is based in Mallow and the dogs are bred, trained and fostered within the Munster region but are matched with families across the whole country.
The charity are always in need of homes who will take care of dogs both long-term and short-term. People can also donate or sponsor a dog in an effort to put more dogs through training and therefore provide more assistance dogs for children who need them.
“It’s been a very rewarding experience so far. It’s just the same as minding an ordinary puppy really. If anything, it’s actually easier because you can bring him into shops and things like that. Of course we’ll miss him when he has to go but it will be so nice knowing we helped along the way,” explained Mona.
Niamh, Mona’s daughter said that caring for Zeus is something that brings the whole family together. The Sextons also have a number of their own dogs and Zeus has become best of friends with their 6 month old pup.
Carla Ankiah also noted that although when the dogs have their jackets on they are working and follow the commands of the owner, when they go home they are given time without the jacket where they run and play freely like any other dog.
For more information contact 022-43851 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.