Gavin deals with a disability that is more than what meets the eye, especially considering eye contact has been a challenge for him.
At 5 years old, Gavin was diagnosed with autism, after spending several days testing at Mayo Clinic. His mother, Jenny, didn’t know other children with autism, but some resources at Mayo had suggested an autism assistance dog. Then, a family friend who was involved with Can Do Canines introduced Jenny to this organization.
Gavin had been initially fearful of dogs, but during the application process time period, he began reading to a therapy dog at school and changed his mind. Patience paid off when Gavin, newly enamored with the idea of a canine companion, was matched with his partner, Nana.
She’s got the Magic Touch
Nana is a 2-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever who is as sweet as she is snuggly. Jenny met Nana initially, learning how to train with her and incorporate her into the family life. Gavin couldn’t wait to pet her, and was so excited to rub her ears the day she arrived at their house. Crowds and loud noises would cause Gavin stress, and changes in schedules, such as unexpected errands, would be a challenge for him to handle.
Nana is able to provide light pressure therapy for Gavin to feel connected with reality and more grounded. Things that we don’t think about, such as the seams in clothes (or the material they’re made of) and haircuts would make him incredibly uncomfortable. Nana intervenes to help him self-regulate and process his emotions, as he says, “I think when I have someone, I just feel better if I’m having a rough time.” Jenny has seen a change with Gavin, saying that he’s been able to sit a little longer and focus on learning in online schooling this year.
The bedtime routine used to be a lot of work for the family, as Jenny tried to convince Gavin first to go to sleep. Then she would have to deal with all the times he’d come get her throughout the night. Now, if Gavin wakes up in the middle of the night, he can touch Nana and self-soothe with that calming tactile sensation. “I know she’ll always be there for me. She just listens, she doesn’t ask any questions,” Gavin says of his new best friend. Instead of having to isolate when he gets overwhelmed, he’s able to spend time with her. Having to go to a space by himself in order to calm himself down was a difficult task, but now he can go “be with his dog” and recover much more quickly. Jenny is elated by the changes she’s seen in Gavin. He is taking on routine and responsibility while developing social and problem-solving skills, thanks to Nana.
The Greatest Gift for Gavin
It’s difficult to express the gratitude his family has for Can Do Canines, but Gavin tells those who helped raise Nana, “They should keep up the good work. They make a bunch of people happy and they probably don’t realize it.” Jenny adds, “So much has gone into training her, and through everything, she’s here. As a mom, that’s one of the greatest things I could’ve asked for, for Gavin.”
Reflecting on the fact that Can Do Canines are given to clients free of charge, she says, “What an amazing gift to be able to give to somebody.” She goes on to share that even coming up with a fraction of what an assistance dog costs would be burdensome on top of handling the medical and therapy bills. “Nana is Gavin’s everything. This dog has become everything to this little boy.”
With a renewed sense of self and confidence, Gavin has learned what it means to be part of a team and loves Nana, stating, “She takes care of me, and I’ll take care of her.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Puppy Raiser: Laurie Dupont
Special Thanks: Ken & Holly Schultz
You: Thank you for your donations!