Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 20
A companion for HunterBY JASON BANANIA
A dog will always be “man’s best friend,” and can also be a guardian for children. But the latter doesn’t come cheap.
Tamara Pierce’s 3-year-old son Hunter is an autistic child who she said has a need to wander and explore his surroundings. Hunter is also quick, which creates the potential for him to sneak away under even a watchful eye.
To help ensure Hunter’s safety, the Pierce family has turned to Good Dog!, which trains dogs specifically for children with autism.
“One of the main reasons we are doing this is because my son runs off when he sees a door open. He’s also always on high alert. The addition of the dog is going to help calm him down and be a source of protection, too,” Pierce said.
According to the Good Dog! website, companion dogs differ from assistance dogs because they’re trained to help an individual child rather than a specific disability.
After meeting with a family and determining whether a companion dog is right for the child, the trainers travel to the family’s home so the dog can be trained in a setting familiar to the child.
“Most organizations expect you to pluck your child out of their environment and take them to their place for the training. These trainers are actually coming to us. They’re going to train us to work with the dog in our environment. It’s a very special thing,” Pierce said.
She said she’s already looking forward to the safety the companion dog will provide Hunter, who will be tethered to the dog if he’s outside. The dog will be trained to lie down and act as an anchor the moment it feels Hunter pulling in a different direction. Because Hunter is non-verbal, the dog will also be trained to bark if Hunter’s name is called, Pierce said.
Protection won’t be the only thing the dog will be used for. It will also be a source of comfort for the 3-year-old.
“At night Hunter has sleep issues, which have been a problem since day one,” Pierce said. “The dog will be trained to lay in bed with Hunter and provide that warmth and deep pressure that comforts him. That’s a big thing we’re looking forward to.”
However, the price of this specially trained dog is high. In order to meet the dog and begin the training sessions, the Pierce family is required to make a down payment of $5,000—half of the overall price tag.
To help pay for the dog, the family will be holding a fundraising event called “Wag, Walk, and Roll” on Aug. 4 at River Park in Lompoc.
There will be a Doggy Costume Contest, on-site grooming by La Paws Mobile Pet Groomers, and opportunities to win shirts, hats, and a chance to have an artist create a professional pet portrait.
“We want to meet our dog as soon as possible, but $10,000 is a lot of money to raise. This is our first event, so we’re not expecting to get huge donations. All we’re asking for is a $25 suggested donation,” Pierce said. “Mostly this is to bring dog lovers into the park and to make people aware about service dogs for autism. We want to get people interested in what we’re doing.”
Community Corner was written by intern Jason Banania. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, e-mail, or mail.
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