A CHARITY which has changed the lives of families across Cork is set to reopen its application waiting list in early 2019, almost three years after it closed.
My Canine Companion is a national charity founded in 2011 by Cliona O’Rourke with the help of her husband, Niall Ruddy.
Their main purpose is to provide highly trained and skilled service dogs to people with disabilities, particularly autism.
The charity has trained more than 250 dogs which have become integral parts of families across Ireland in recent years.
However, such was the demand for its services, My Canine Companion had to close it’s waiting list in March 2016.
“We just couldn’t keep up with the demand,” said Mr Ruddy, current chief executive of the charity.
“Since we closed the waiting list, we’ve had over 1,000 expressions of interest in canine companions.
“We’ve since caught up on our waiting list and we’re hoping to reopen it in early 2019,” he added.
The Irish Guide Dogs and Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland also train dogs to assist children with autism. Last year, the three charities trained 75 service dogs.
My Canine Companion has adopted a new approach whereby the pups, during their training, are placed in the homes they will become part of after completing it.
“This means the dog and the child with autism can have a better bond, they grow up together and the pup becomes used to all the places it will be going,” said Mr Ruddy.
These companions can change the life of a child with autism and that of their family.
The dogs help increase safety levels, alleviate bolting behaviours, provide independence and greater freedom as well as acting as a constant companion, offering unconditional love and friendship to the child.
They are also a great help when it comes to transitioning which leads to reduced stress levels and a more positive experience for all.
Speaking to the Evening Echo, two Cork mothers of autistic children praised the initiative, saying it had a positive impact on their child.
“We actually got a dog from My Canine Companion and it’s made a huge difference, Mia is a new child and she was able to go for the assessment,” said Mia’s mother Tracey Doyle.
My Canine Companion also provided a dog to the O’Mahony family for Bethany, aged 7.
Her mother Nora, said it has been a huge help to her daughter.
Despite its success and demand for its services, My Canine Companion receives no funding from the government.
Mr Ruddy has called for this to change. He said the charity could do even more with just a little support.
“We would like to see direct funding, it would allow us to train more dogs and help more families, and take the pressure of parents dealing with very difficult situations.
“At the moment, training a service dog costs around €10,000 with families and the charity constantly trying to fundraise but it’s very difficult,” he added.
“With just €400,000 a year we could change the lives of 50 families.”