April is National Autism Awareness Month, and Lions Foundation of Canada — a national charity that provides guide dogs, at no cost, to Canadians with a medical or physical disability — is celebrating the graduation of clients from their Autism Assistance Dog Guide program.
While the work of Lions Foundation is certainly newsworthy during National Autism Awareness Month, it’s a single dog here in NL that’s in the spotlight this month. For keeping Sonnet Morhart safe from harm on their very first outing.
Sonnet graduated from the program just months ago, in December of 2016. She and her dog, Trenton, live in Lawn, a small town on the Burin Peninsula. Trenton was trained to keep her safe, and near her mother, Lisa.
“Our first outing – where my daughter was tethered to Trenton – went really well. Sonnet was very calm, and she walked in an orderly fashion at a consistent pace. Normally, she is frantic and all over the place.”
In addition to safety and unconditional companionship, Autism Assistance Dog Guides offering a calming relief for children in high anxiety situations. Dog Guides can reduce the stress commonly experienced in public places. And the bond that develops between Dog Guide and child is one that allows for increased social interaction for the family and the child.
“Trenton stopped every once in a while to look up at me for little assurances and approval,” Lisa says. “Things were really going great!”
Neither Lisa or Trenton could have predicted what came next, as the trio left a grocery store. It was getting dark out, as they made their way towards their car.
“My daughter is just six, and she is fascinated by water. Puddles are her absolute favorite. She hasn’t met a puddle yet that she didn’t want to jump in. As we walked towards the car, Sonnet noticed a gigantic puddle in the middle of a very busy parking lot. She ran for the puddle – and straight towards an oncoming pick-up truck and car.”
Sonnet was bolting into harm’s way before Lisa could help or stop her. “I was screaming, ‘Sonnet, no! Sonnet, NO!’ But she was completely unfazed – not even the slightest bit affected by my shouting.”
And that’s where Trenton came in — he was alert and listening, just as the program had trained him. When Lisa yelled for Trenton to HALT!, Trenton instantly dropped to the ground, like an anchor mooring Sonnet to safety. A split second later, two vehicles tore through the puddle she’d have been playing in.
“It could not have been a closer call,” Lisa says. “We have taken to calling Trenton our ‘hero dog,’ so I want to express my thanks to the donors, supporters, and staff at Dog Guides Canada.”
“The success of this program is undeniable,” says its communications Manager, Sarah Miller. “There is an ever-increasing need – a demand, really – for Autism Assistance Dog Guides right across the country.”
“Our Foundation is not government funded though, which means we rely solely on donations in order to continue to do the work we do. Our Autism Assistance Dog Guide Program has had a very high volume of applicants over recent years, and that has meant Dog Guides Canada has had to close its waiting list.”
But there’s good news. “Our upcoming Pet Valu Walk for Dog Guides fundraiser is our biggest fundraiser of the year – which is a chance for people to help our Foundation.
To get involved, visit: https://www.walkfordogguides.com. 14 communities have walk locations.
“We are hoping to get as much support as possible for this year’s Walk so that we can, eventually, re-open the wait list, start accepting new applications, and move forward in helping Canadians in need,” Sarah says.