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Dogs for the Disabled autism project has a positive start


Dogs for the Disabled announced recently that the charity has secured funding of £88,000 towards its autism project – enough to train eight teams of autism assistance dogs.

Interest in the charity’s new programme has already been overwhelming, assistance dogs have never been trained for children with autism in the UK before, although results overseas have demonstrated significant benefits to both an autistic child and their family. Despite the good news, the charity is keen to stress that continued support is now vital to allow their fledgling autism assistance dog programme to grow and meet demand for the services.

Peter Gorbing is chief executive of the charity, and is delighted that the project has had such a good start with regards to funding: “Since we launched the news of our autism project this year we have been inundated with enquiries about the service. This initial round of funding will help us train eight assistance dogs, but this is still just the tip of the iceberg, there are potentially hundreds of families we could help.”

Stealing hearts

The charity officially launched their project at this year’s Crufts, when Friend for Life finalist, six year old William Johnson and his assistance dog Percy stole many hearts with the story of their partnership.

Training an autism assistance dog takes approximately two years, with an intensive socialisation period followed by a specialised training programme to help the assistance dog act as a guide and anchor for an autistic child. Once trained, the effect on the child and their family can be immense, allowing the whole family to engage in ‘normal’ family activity such as holidays, a trip to the supermarket or simply visiting friends.

Funding for the first three partnerships has been made possible thanks to a substantial donation from the Hilton in the Community Foundation. Simon Vincent, Chairman of the Hilton in the Community Foundations trustees and President Hilton UK and Ireland said:

“We are delighted to be part of such an exciting and important project and particularly to be able to support it in its early stages. Hopefully the breakthrough of the first three partnerships will lead to many more being created and many more children and families benefiting. William and Percy have already demonstrated the positive influence a trained dog can have when dealing with autism and we are really excited about future progress. The Hilton in the Community Foundation is committed to helping disadvantaged children throughout the country, and when we see the terrific impact of work like this it spurs on all our team members’ fundraising efforts.”

Dogs for the Disabled has already trained two autism assistance dogs partnerships and are currently training a further six assistance dogs to be partnered with children with autism throughout 2008. A further eight partnerships are planned for 2009.

For more information and to further support the work of Dogs for the Disabled please visit www.dogsforthedisabled.org or call 01295 252600.