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Modern research has discovered that dogs and many other animal species communicate via mental images. Other writings coupled with my personal experiences have convinced me that children, prior to developing verbal skills, may share this special ability to communicate. Autistic children seem to continue on with this image based communication. This has opened up a new role for our canine buddies, as service dogs for autistic children; last August, Dogs in Canada had an article on this very subject with reference to National Service Dogs, an organization that trains and provides such dogs.

The Rudachyk family in Barrie has an autistic child, William and a Newfoundland, Abby. When I asked Mom Kathy why she adopted a Newfoundland rather than getting a Service Dog, she explained that the specially trained dogs are for the child only and not suppose to be part of the family; she wanted a dog that could also be shared by her whole family which includes two other children. Following are some excerpts from e-mails that I have received from Kathy; the first two are examples of what a Newf does naturally and the third, an illustration of complimentary training.

William was having a bad day; he was lying on the couch, flailing around, complaining and generally unhappy. His therapist, Anne, who had been working with him was trying to comfort him. I heard the commotion and went to see if I could help. Nothing was really working. Anne and I were around William and in pushes Abby, as if to say “excuse me, I’ll take over from here.” She leaned on him, nudged him, put her paw on him. William got up and started pacing around the house. Abby tailed him until he settled down and then went on her merry way. Her job was done! She just amazes me.

One day Abby went running down to the basement. She doesn’t usually go down there. I quickly followed, and sure enough William had fallen down and skinned his knee. Abby had heard this from a dead sleep.

We are starting to teach Abby a game, Where’s William? She has to find him in the house. When she does, she gets a big treat. I am hoping it will increase her awareness of where he is at all times.

Any family with an autistic child is welcome to contact Kathy at clan.rudachyk@gmail.com or (705) 721-0187 for more information.

Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979.  In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada.  When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.

Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.

Dogs in Canada

August 2005