Child’s best friend: How growing up with a dog can benefit your child
Dr Butler says research suggests that adults who own dogs are more physically active, taking approximately 25pc more steps per day, and that “a higher level of child attachment to a dog is associated with increased child physical activity”.
This has never been more true for the Farrell family from Dublin, who rarely left the house with daughter Layla until they got assistance dog Google. Layla, who turns 11 next month, was diagnosed with autism aged two. Seven-year-old Google, a goldendoodle, was assigned to Layla when she was three.
Layla requires 24-hour care and parents Edel and Stephen Farrell, as well as Layla’s brother, Karl (21), and sister, Chloe (18), have to take extra precautions to ensure Layla’s safety. They keep a keypad on the front door and locks and chains on the windows.
“Layla has severe autism. She is a runner, constantly getting out of the house,” says Edel. “As a baby you couldn’t let her out of her buggy. So when it got to the stage where she was too big for a buggy, this was where Google came in. I didn’t want a dog that shed hair or smelled as Layla is very sensitive to smells.”
Edel applied to My Canine Companion, a charity which places assistance and therapy dogs with children and young adults living with autism. The charity paired them with Google.
“Poodles and golden retrievers are said to be two of the most intelligent dogs. Google is a mix of both. He’s placid, doesn’t shed, doesn’t smell and is hypoallergenic.”
“Layla didn’t show much affection towards him straight away,” explains Edel. “She didn’t show affection towards anybody. She had to learn, and Google taught her how to care, love and hug.”
Google was trained with My Canine Companion and Edel and Stephen had to keep up the training at home. As Layla began to warm to the dog, the Farrells’ lives started to open up again.
By attaching Google to Layla through a safety harness, or by allowing Layla to use a handle, the little girl now walks side by side with her assistance dog and her family.
For the first time since Layla was born, Edel was able to plan a family holiday. “We packed up the car and went to Cork with the dog – which we’d never done. He also came to Lanzarote with us on our first family holiday abroad.”
Edel also acknowledges the benefits of having Google out in public if Layla feels overwhelmed. Anything from the smell of perfume in a shop to the pattern on the floor could overwhelm Layla, to the point where she can throw herself on the ground.
“She’s a big girl and you can’t always get her up which causes people to look. When you have a child that looks like everyone else but has loads of issues, having the assistance dog takes away from all that because they see the dog’s coat that reads ‘Do not pet me I am working’.
“If we’re out in the shops and things are getting too much for her, she holds onto his head or she’ll hug him and feel his coat. I think every child with autism should get a dog; they help in so many ways.”
You can read the full article Irish Independent article here.
Edel Farrell and daughter Layla (10) with assistance dog Google. Photo Credit: Steve Humphreys