A Dog For David - by Kathleen Gifford

A story about a boy, his dog and a remarkable town.

David is a 12 year old boy much like any other boy his age with day dreams of running in open fields on sunny afternoons and school yard antics.  At home he has a ready smile and a jovial laugh.  Unlike others kids his age often times David cannot let go do these activities he enjoys so much.  In public, rarely is his laughter heard or a smile seen.  David has autism.  He speaks with communication pictures and a voice output device.  In public David is so gripped with anxiety that even the simplest task become labour intensive.  Stepping up on a curb, walking through a door or turning a corner in a hallway. David becomes filled with fear and must pause and most times yell out before he can complete these everyday happenings.

CAMI team members supported A Dog For David at a gate collection held Friday March 14th which raised over $3,000 toward the cost of training David Gifford’s service dog Beau
CAMI team members supported A Dog For David at a gate collection held Friday March 14th which raised over $3,000 toward the cost of training David Gifford’s service dog Beau.

Almost three years ago we decided to get a dog to be a calming influence on him.  Our yellow lab named Beau tried very hard to be David’s friend.  However, in all of Beau’s exuberance David did not want much to do with him.  Because David was a little older and we already had our own dog the typical service dog school was not interested in taking us on as clients.  Still we persevered, trying as best we could to assist David with his ever increasing needs.  Some of our focus went to a customized trike, which worked for a while, a voice output device that works but he still requires courage to use these items in public.  In the back of our minds we knew Beau was the answer.  Then, late last summer we learned of a trainer who was starting his own business and looking for families.  I emailed Wade Beattie of Autism Dog Services and gave him a brief outline of our family.  Wade was not deterred by the fact that we already had a dog or by David’s age.  We met in September to begin discussing possibilities.

Wade spent some time assessing Beau and making sure he was sound dog and capable of receiving this highly specialized training.  We were elated to learn that Wade found our Beau worthy of the training.  Now the next obstacle was money.  Due to David’s needs I have remained at home.  Leaving the work force shortly before we adopted him.  How were we going to pay the fifteen thousand needed to train our dog.  Mustering my own courage, my husband and I signed the contract and I gathered my girlfriends to see what we could do.  Every one approached was so eager to learn more about a service dog and their willingness to help us achieve this was at times overwhelming.  Besides raising the money I also needed to learn how to properly handle a dog.  This meant that our old relationship needed to be stripped away and rebuilt.  All of this was a bit taxing in the beginning and I do admit to losing some sleep trying to figure out the how. 

Autism Dog Services trainer Wade Beattie joins CAMI Maintenance Associate Dave Bond in a gate collection held last week for A Dog For David. CAMI team members raised over $3000 toward the cost of training a service dog for Ingersoll resident David Gifford.
Autism Dog Services trainer Wade Beattie joins CAMI Maintenance Associate Dave Bond in a gate collection held last week for A Dog For David. CAMI team members raised over $3000 toward the cost of training a service dog for Ingersoll resident David Gifford.

To my delight we had been able to begin our fund raising with an Anne of Green Gables play at The Grande Theatre in London.  The fund raising was now underway and the training happening simultaneously.  It was decided that Beau would go with the trainer from Monday to Friday allowing David to have his dog on weekends.  Immediately their relationship started to grow.  After two years of paying next to no attention to Beau, David began to seek him out.  He started to pet Beau and learned to call him by slapping his knee.  Beau is quick to respond every time.  It is like Beau had this innate need to be with David but we were not able to find the key.  Much to our pleasure the relationship grew and grew.  So did the funds.  With help through Harris Heights Public school (David’s school), Kiwanis Club, Ingersoll Support Network, Tim Hickman Memorial Foundation, and many donations we were quickly reaching our goal.  We are currently at $11,000.00 raised.  It has been the most humbling thing for us to go to the mailbox and find a two hundred dollar cheque from a complete stranger.  We started to fall in love with our town all over again.  Just as we were getting tired and running out of ideas two organizations have come forward to help.  Cami Automotive and the Key Club at IDCI.  On March 14th there will be a gate collection for A Dog For David.  This venture is run by a few people filled with passion and a desire to help make their community a little brighter.  Then in April we will join the highschool to host a dog walk.  There are not enough words to describe what it means to be energized by these new faces and ideas. 

Kathleen Gifford is all smiles at a gate collection held at CAMI Automotive last Friday. CAMI team members donated over $3000 to A Dog For David. The donations will go toward the cost of training Beau (pictured) as a service dog for the Giffords’ son David, who has autism.
Kathleen Gifford is all smiles at a gate collection held at CAMI Automotive last Friday. CAMI team members donated over $3000 to A Dog For David. The donations will go toward the cost of training Beau (pictured) as a service dog for the Giffords’ son David, who has autism.

I am happy to report that the training is almost complete.  David is now teamed with his dog in public for outings, so of which we have not been able to frequent for a few years.  We went to a mall the other day and David was thrilled to be there.  His only protest was at mention of leaving.  We are enjoying walks in parks and going to restaurants.  Our world is opening up before our eyes.  Soon Beau will attend school with David.  At home, the two are almost always together.  Mostly, David sits on Beau’s bed with Beau curled up beside him.  At stressful times you can find Beau at David’s feet with David running his toes through his hair.  When David is with Beau he stands a little taller in public and you will see a sly smile cross David’s face.

My husband and I have lived in Ingersoll for most of our lives and our gratitude runs as deep as our roots.

For more information on training a service dog please contact:
Wade Beattie, Autism Dog Services at autismdogservices@yahoo.ca
Kathleen Gifford can be reached at    gifford_kathleen@hotmail.com

If you have a story to share about your family's experiences in your community, please send it to us at autismlondon.office@gmail.com !















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