By Mark Weber For the Advance
An online silent auction will soon be underway to help raise funds for the purchase of a service dog for a Stettler boy with autism.
“Jenner Smith’s mom, Charly Cassidy, applied to our Foundation for a service dog for Jenner. They themselves have already raised half of the funds towards the dog, which was amazing to do on their own,” said Sharlee Anderson, who is with The Make a Move with Jagger Foundation.
“They came to us for last half, which is about $10,000 left owing. So we started up, just before Christmas, a calendar and card fundraiser which raised about $800 for that specific family.
“We also decided that we wanted to keep helping them until they could get the dog,” she said. “We’ve created an online silent auction on Facebook. The auction will be taking place starting on March 11th at 9 a.m. and wrapping up on March 14th at noon.”
Anderson said a service dog was recommended for Jenner’s family as a means to help him get further involved with a number of community activities.
“I’ve spoken with Aspen Service Dogs, and it’s quite the process to apply for a dog and be qualified. They did qualify, and I think having this dog in their lives would make it so they’d be able to do more everyday kinds of things that most families take for granted,” she said.
According to the Foundation’s Facebook page, Jenner has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Global Development Delay.
“Jenner is a very happy boy but happy doesn’t always mean safe. He is non-verbal, he avoids people he doesn’t know and bolts towards anything that catches his eye. It makes outings as a family extremely hard.
“The therapy dog will attend school with him to help bring stability, familiarity and regulation for the transition of kindergarten and any other public outings the family wants to attend.
“The dog will promote compassion and acceptance within his community.”
Jenner’s mom said that her son, who is now four, was formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Global Developmental Delay in September of 2019.
“Lots of children who are on the spectrum under the age of five will often get that dual diagnosis,” she explained.
“He was two and one-half at the time of his diagnosis.”
Charly said that a service dog will be a tremendous help in a number of ways.
“For Jenner, one of our biggest concerns is that he doesn’t really understand danger. And they are often very impulsive, so if he sees something and he wants it, he will bolt,” she explained. “He will bolt into traffic, or he will jump into a body of water even though he can’t swim. He just doesn’t understand the consequences,” she said.
The service dogs are trained to be a companion to the child, and the child also comes to learn that he or she has to help care for the dog as well.
“They bond with the dog, and they learn things like, ‘I can’t go there because that isn’t safe for my dog’. There is that kinship where they kind of understand that they need to keep their dogs safe.”
Also, when the children are young, there are special tethers that can attach the child to the dog.
“If I were to be walking the dog with a leash with Jenner, if he saw something and tried to bolt, the dog would feel the pressure pull and would stop. He wouldn’t allow Jenner to go.”
Charly said it’s a two year waitlist to get one of these specially-trained dogs. If everything goes according to plan, they are set to receive a dog by December.
But it’s costly, too.
“They are partially funded by the government and we have to come up with the other half. Altogether, it’s $25,000. So at the beginning, there is a $5,000 deposit and then the first year, you pay $10,000. During the second year, you pay the final $10,000. Our goal is to raise enough for the final payment, which would be $10,000,” she said.
Charly noted that service dogs also really help with ‘regulating and transitioning’ autistic children when they are in a heightened state and are having trouble calming themselves, or they are in an environment where they just aren’t coping very well.
The dogs will really help settle them. This can happen through what is known as ‘deep pressure’ where, for example, something of weight is applied to the body, which in turn, has a calming effect.
“For sleeping it’s great, too. Just having that companion there – that calming, consistent presence that can also be a forever friend when other people may not be able to understand what’s happening because often (the children) can’t vocalize what they need.”
It should be an easy transition to welcome the dog into the family home, as Jenner loves animals, his mom said.
“We have horses, dogs and cats and he has always really loved the dogs,” she said.
“We are very excited – it will also be really good for Jenner and for the family to have another dog around that the kids can also help take care of.”
The Make a Move with Jagger Foundation, which is based in Red Deer, is committed to facilitating the inclusion and independence of individuals with special needs in the community.
To learn more about the online auction, find the ‘Make a Move with Jagger Foundation’ on Facebook.