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Elizabeth MacDonald
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Dog guide makes huge improvement for child with autism

Blake Maher poses with his Autism Assistance dog guide, Armani, who came to live with the Maher-Greene family just over a year ago. Blake has autism, and Armani, an autism assistance dog guide, helps Blake with his day-to-day life.

Blake Maher has been learning a lot of new things this past year.

The twelve-year old was diagnosed with autism as a small child. Over the course of the past year and a half, with the help of the Placentia Lion’s Club’s fundraising efforts, he’s been living with his Autism Assistance dog guide, Armani, who has helped improve his life a lot, says his mother, Tara Greene.

Blake is highly functioning, but has difficulty in social situations and is not great with speech and language. His mom said he was not a good sleeper, either, and spent many nights coming into his parents’ room seeking comfort.

Now, said Greene, Armani provides a lot of the comfort and social safety net for her son, which has helped improve his life quite a bit.

“Parents in this situation are wiling to try pretty much anything to improve daily life for their child and as well as a family,” said Greene. “I saw first hand while in Oakville, people from all over Canada with busy lives willing to add a dog to the mix to see if it would help in any way possible. All the kids are benefitting to some degree, so that makes it worthwhile.”

Greene said it was a huge adjustment for the family to get the dog, even though it was a highly trained dog guide. There were strict rules she and her husband Jerry had to comply with to make the situation work for Blake, and she said she is really glad they did what they needed to.

“It was a lot of work, but I can’t see Blake ever without a dog now. I am really glad I was strict with the rules of the dog guides the first year since I now see the importance of that. Armani requires daily training, but when his coat is on, he is the top dog.”

Greene explained with another smaller child, their son Jagger, 7, it was a challenge to follow all the rules that ensured Armani bonded with Blake and not Jagger, but, she said, Jagger has been very understanding about it, and knows that Armani is Blake’s special dog and helps him so much.

Greene said she’s seen a lot of improvements in Blake’s behavior and life.

“Blake has had a big year in speech and language, which is something I have waited for, for many years. He is doing much better socially and is coping with crowds with less anxiety. He is at the point now with Armani where he always wants him to be with him, so we are thrilled with that. Armani is the same,” she said. “If he doesn’t go with Blake, he cries, so they are a pair now. Blake is so proud of Armani too. He was actually counting down the days to bring him to school to see his friends in Grade 6. All the kids were equally excited. It was sweet to watch.”

As Greene said, she really just wants her child to live a happy life, and she sees that with Armani, Blake’s life is happier, and so is theirs.

“Another huge step for Blake in the past year is that he is sleeping independently for eight months, something he never did. That was becoming a big problem for us with him being 12 and wanting mom and dad, waking several times a night. That was getting very hard on us, with broken sleep for years, but I have to say, that is something I am glad is over.”

She said Armani waits by Blake’s door at night for Blake to go to bed. Then Blake might invite Armani into the bed with him or Armani will sleep at the foot of the bed. Either way, Armani provides the comfort to her son he was seeking.

Greene said she really wanted to thank the people who have helped make this dog guide come true for her son.

“I can’t thank Mr. Greene from St. Anne’s Academy enough, and the Placentia Lion’s Club for taking on the Purina Walk for Dog Guides again this year. In the past two years, our community has raised enough to provide a dog to another family with autism free of charge, so that is something to be proud of. The communities of Long Harbour and Placentia with the help of my Nan and Aunt Carly made this year very successful. With people always fundraising for something, I was very grateful. I just wanted to pay it forward so another child could get the same opportunity as Blake.”

With the fundraising done in this area, now another child can.

Organizations: Purina Walk for Dog Guides

Geographic location: Placentia, Oakville, Canada Anne Long Harbour

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