When Dogs for the Disabled first approached the Grand Charity in 2010, requesting support for a pilot scheme they had devised aimed at assisting children with autism, no one knew for certain if it would work.
But the project has become so successful it is now a global export, with programmes operating in the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Australia. Through the PAWS Service, families learn how to train a pet dog to support and help a child with autism, and receive advice on choosing the right dog for their child’s needs. To date, more than 600 UK families have benefited from PAWS, and its 2016 workshops, to be held countrywide, are already filling up fast.
It has been observed that there is a special chemistry between dogs and children with autism. A dog can have an incredibly calming effect when a child becomes angry or anxious, enabling the parent or carer to take control of a situation. While for some there will always be a need for a fully trained assistance dog, a well-trained pet dog can also have a hugely beneficial impact.
Paws and effect
Life was becoming difficult for Karen, mum to 10-year-old Ben, who has profound non-verbal autism: ‘When Ben had his total meltdowns he would hit and bite me, and he has pushed and pulled me into the road. Because of his size and strength, I struggled to keep him safe, and he was endangering me too.’
Thanks to PAWS, Karen and Ben have now welcomed a bright, friendly Labrador named Murphy into the family. It’s taking time, but already Murphy is helping Ben and his family immensely by providing assistance on trips outside the home, as well as comfort and reassurance. Ben reaches out to touch Murphy and also tries to say his name; both actions are considered big breakthroughs.
‘Everything about PAWS is fantastic,’ says Karen. ‘Murphy is gentle with Ben and is naturally interested in him. He often sleeps next to his bedroom door or waits at the foot of the trampoline while Ben has a bounce.’
The Freemasons’ Grand Charity provided £25,000 in 2010 and again in 2012 to support the PAWS Service through its initial three-year pilot phase. The scheme was deemed a success and another £25,000 donation from the Grand Charity was awarded in 2014. Peter Gorbing, chief executive of Dogs for the Disabled, said: ‘We are immensely grateful for this ongoing assistance. This latest grant will help us maintain and extend this vital service, making it even more accessible to children and their families.’
Through its grant-making, the Grand Charity seeks to support projects that provide valuable assistance to the people who need it most. In donating towards the PAWS Service, Freemasons have helped many autistic children to communicate better with their families, and to experience a safer, happier life thanks to the comfort and companionship of a pet dog.
Letters to the Editor - No. 31 Autumn 2015
I was very pleased to read the two articles regarding Dogs for the Disabled and the generous donations made to PAWS. I am a socialiser with the puppies for Dogs for the Disabled, and my last two puppies are involved with this scheme. One is now with an autistic child and the other is just being placed with a child.
It is very rewarding training the pups and you do get a little bit upset when they leave you, but the charity keeps you in touch with the progress of the dog. You also get a replacement quite quickly, so the disappointment is short-lived. Once again, thank you so much for your welcome support of Dogs for the Disabled.
Ray Beckingham, Wraxall Lodge, No. 9011, Nailsea, Somerset