ALLEGAN COUNTY, Mich. (WZZM) - For children with autism, nearly everything we consider normal exists "outside" of their world. But service dogs are helping give them skills to live a normal life.
Paws with a Cause is now in its first full year of placing dogs in the homes of children with autism. But now they need your help to train more dogs.
The big need is for foster families because Paws with a Cause has more pups than normal this spring, 80 puppies. These pups go home to a family for one year. Then trainers take them back, to turn them into service, hearing, and seizure-response dogs. But in the last year, they've been able to expand that reach to help autistic children, in ways far beyond expectations.
Nine year old Grant Lanning is in an unfamiliar setting. He's surrounded by puppies. For Grant, this new setting is enough to set off behaviors common to his disorder, autism.
But bring him back over, just a few feet away, to his own dog, Libby, and his mood, language, and actions suddenly shift.
Grant's Mom, Renee Lanning says, "He is calmer and is more cooperative and he is always his friend no matter what state he is in."
The friendship between Grant and Libby started two years ago, just after Paws with a Cause launched the autism pilot program. It's the first program of its kind in the country.
The goal is to train puppies like these to help give kids like Grant the life and social skills to live a normal adult life.
Ken Kirsch, the Paws with a Cause Training Manager says, "It's blown away our expectations."
Grant is one of 17 local kids who, as an example, has gone from watching TV and not knowing what to do with himself... to exercising and grooming himself. All because he does both with Libby.
Renee Lanning says, "Libby gives Grant a responsibility at home." The dog even sleeps in Grant's bed.
Ken Kirsch says, "We've had to change some commands and add some commands because the kids are doing more things with their dogs than we thought they were going to do."
And it's benefiting their entire families. Trainer Kirsch shares his favorite example of one child who had never been out to dinner, or to the mall. He says the child had "never been to a Tigers game, and they had never as a family been on vacation as a whole. Last year, they're campers; you can't find them at home anymore."
To help out and foster a dog, there is an orientation for prospective puppy raisers next Monday, March 19th at 6pm. It will be held at the Paws with a Cause canine development facility. You can call (800) 253-7297 to RSVP, or click here to go to the website of Paws with a Cause.