Bevin can be playing like a puppy, but she instantly becomes a serious working dog when her vest goes on.
The black Labrador retriever is an autism assistance dog who’s played a big part in 14-year-old Ama Carey’s life for seven years.
“She helps me, and I like everything about having her,” said Ama. “She’s really special and I love her.”
The Valley girl was four years old when she was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
“When Ama was younger she was a bit of a runner and she was experiencing a lot of anxiety,” said her mother, Carla. “A relative in the valley, who is an EA, told us about a boy who’d received a service dog and she thought they were amazing together. She passed along the information about Dog Guides of Canada and we decided to apply.”
They applied in October and Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides officials came from Ontario to do a needs assessment. In March, the family was approved, and in June Carla went to Oakville for nine days of intensive handler training. Autism assistance dogs are trained to follow directions from an adult handler in order to keep the child safe.
When she got home with Bevin, the focus was first on promoting the bond between her and Ama so the girl fed, brushed and played with her. Although they started out with a kennel, Bevin was soon sleeping with Ama.
The running stopped after the dog arrived and Ama’s anxiety levels dropped. Autism assistance dogs are trained to go toward turmoil instead of away from it, so whenever Ama was stressed the dog was there.
“Over the years she’s been a big help,” said Carla. “We can do more things as a family now. We used to rent wheelchairs so Ama would have something to touch. With Bevin there, she could hold the handle on the vest.”
The dog has accompanied them to Disneyworld, Universal Studios, Canada’s Wonderland, theatres, restaurants, and shops. She can tuck herself under a seat in a plane; if there’s one available, she often gets her own.
Because Bevin has allergies to several foods, a decision was made not to send her to classes with Ama in case children gave her treats that would cause a reaction. She has gone to special events at Valley Elementary, Redcliff Middle School and Bible Hill Junior High, and will attend activities at Cobequid Educational Centre with Ama this year.
“It’s nice to come home to her,” said Ama. “She likes to greet us at the door and I go in and have a snuggle with her for a bit. She’s a good snuggler and I talk to her a lot.”
Unlike with most service dogs, people can pet an autism assistance dog if the person they’re with says it’s okay.
“Everybody’s been super understanding and they ask before they pet her,” said Carla. “When we’re at restaurants they often bring her a bowl of water. We haven’t had any problems taking her places.”
When she was 10, Ama was doing so well that she became one of the youngest approved handlers with Dog Guides of Canada. She’s also in her third year of cadets and ready to begin volunteering with a reading program at the library.
“Bevin helped me a lot,” she said. “Being with her makes me feel good.”
More information on Dog Guides can be found online at https://www.dogguides.com
A dog's life
Dogs are trained to assist with:
Vision – Dogs help people get around safely.
Hearing – They alert people to certain sounds and lead them to items making the noise, such as an alarm clock or doorbell.
Seizure response – They bark or activate an alert system when someone has a seizure.
Diabetic alert – Dogs detect a drop in their handler’s blood sugar and alert them
Autism assistance – Dogs will calm a person and reduce stress, and try to keep a person safe.
Service – They help with tasks such as picking up items, opening and closing doors, and activating alert systems
• About 65 per cent of foster puppies graduate as Dog Guides. Dogs can be disqualified because of temperament or health issues. Disqualified, puppies are placed with suitable families as pets.
• It takes four to six months to fully train a Dog Guide.
• The average retirement age is between eight and 10 years old.
• Retired Dog Guides usually live with a family member, neighbour, or friend of the client. Occasionally, they are available for adoption.
• More than 2,900 teams have graduated from Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.