A family from Foxford have described how the arrival of an assistance dog called Nikita, who has become a constant and loyal companion for their young son with autism spectrum disorder, has changed their lives.
Brian and Caroline Galvin and their 10-year-old son Adam joined the Irish Guide Dogs this week to appeal for help to relaunch the assistance dog programme next year.
The Irish Guide Dogs had no option but to close the waiting list for the much-needed programme last March because it was hugely oversubscribed.
The Galvins are one of three Mayo families who have benefitted from an asssistance dog since the programme was launched in 2005.
Nikita arrived to their home in July 2012 and Ms Galvin said she doesn’t know now how the family ever coped without her.
An assistance dog is the same breed and temperament as a guide dog but is specially trained to work with a child with autism and his or her family.
Diagnosed with autism when he was two, Adam was prone to wandering off . With a young baby in the house, his parents were at their wits end trying to meet his individual needs and keep him safe at all times.
“I was in tears every day,” said Ms Galvin. “I simply didn’t know how I would cope.”
Assistance dogs help to control and improve the behaviour of a child by promoting calmness and acting as a safety aid to the parents.
Adam forged an instant bond with his new companion and with Nikita by his side, he is now able to play outdoors. Better still, he has not wandered away since they met.
“Nikita has brought us peace of mind,” said Mr Galvin. “She is Adam’s friend and constant companion and when she is off-duty, she is a pet to the whole family too.”
The Irish Guide Dogs is appealing to the Mayo public to help reopen the assistance dog waiting list by donating at www.guidedogs.ie or buying adorable Christmas cards and gifts from the Irish Guide Dogs’ online shop.
It costs more than €4.8 million per year to run the national charity and all of their services are provided free.