The mother of a severely autistic Portadown boy is still hopeful that her son will get the assistance dog he has waited so long for, after the labrador was injured in a minibus crash.
Dougal, an 18-month-old black labrador, sustained soft tissue damage when the Assistance Dogs NI minibus carrying him was written off in a serious crash.
Two members of staff from the charity and Dougal’s foster owner were injured.
Sheenagh McCann, whose nine-year-old son Joe has non-verbal autism and a learning disability, said she was just grateful that Dougal and all the staff had survived.
She said, “It is disappointing after waiting so long and hoping and hoping but, depending on recovery, we still hope to get Dougal by the end of the summer.”
Sheenagh and husband Brian had been told just a month ago that after three years on a waiting list Joe had been assigned a dog - news that was “like winning the lottery”.
A week later, the family travelled to Belfast so Joe could meet Dougal, in advance of seven weeks’ training to prepare both dog and family for the move to his new home.
However, the crash occurred just a week later, putting those plans on hold, much to the family’s frustration.
Sheenagh explained that Dougal will be an anchor dog for Joe, having been trained to lean or lie on him if the Ceara School pupil bolts or attempts to run onto the road.
Said Sheenagh, “Joe is a long-awaited, very special, only child and he is very happy. But we can’t bring Joe to a social event for fear he runs off and gets hurt. He doesn’t like being held so we have to shepherd him and it can be very stressful.
“Dougal is a very sensory dog and Joe likes leaning and lying on me, so that’s what he will be able to do with Dougal.”
She added, “We are hoping when we get Dougal we will be able to go out more and that people will stop and talk to us about Dougal and Joe. There is so much that Dougal will bring to our family.”
Sheenagh has nothing but praise for the invaluable work of Assistance Dogs NI. “It’s incredible how much time the volunteers devote to the dogs before they hand them over. The charity it always looking for more foster mums and dads. It’s an amazing thing they do,” she said.
Sheenagh has set up a Facebook page, Dougal the Autism Assistance Dog, to document Joe’s progress with his new best friend.