On Friday, Malden Park in Windsor, Ontario was inundated with more than 100 dogs as the National Service Dogs’ annual Dog Easter Egg Hunt took place.
One of the attendees was 12-year-old Gabriel D’Annunzio and his four-year-old golden retriever, Indiana.
“At the very least, the friendship aspect is so important,” Chris D’Annunzio, Gabriel’s father.”
Gabriel has autism, and Indiana is a staple to his ability to live an easier life. The dog helps him sleep at night, calms him and prevents severe outbursts in school, and helps increase his attention span.
“Normally a child with autism has a lot of difficulty with change and getting out of a routine,” said Chris. “But the dog was like an anchor for him.”
Chris and his wife Betsy volunteer for the NSD and organized Windsor’s charity Easter egg hunt. All proceeds go to the non-profit organization. Last year $100,000 was raised in the six Canadian cities participating in the hunt. Friday’s event in Windsor raised nearly $5,500. Indiana helped find many of the 2,000 hidden plastic eggs, which contained dog treats.
“We always wanted to have a friend for Gabriel without having to use words or social cues that he’s not able to read and with Indy he’s got that,” Betsy said.
Other therapy dogs also attended the event. Dora, a dachshund-shih tzu mix, was accompanied by Erica McKenzie, the Windsor chapter team leader of Therapeutic Paws of Canada. Erica said many studies have demonstrated dogs’ knack for reducing blood pressure and stress.
“It all falls under animal-assisted therapy,” Erica explained. “It’s huge. I’ve seen kids who are non-verbal start talking. Especially with children with autism it totally brings them out and pushes them to be social and interact with the world.”
NSD has been training and placing Labrador and golden retrievers with families with autistic members since 1996. Their service dogs are valued at nearly $30,000 over their 8 to 10-year working life, but many clients pay much less than that. They have to pay $300 for registration and equipment, and are responsible for all veterinary costs once the dog is theirs. Chris said his family waited nearly four years for Indy, but the “gateway for communication and socializing” Gabriel now has made the wait worth it.
Betsy says the D’Annunzios chip in at NSD because she has seen “the benefits the dog has had for my family and I know there are other families waiting.”