Northern Ireland

Assistance dog: Boy's 'tearjerker' letter has happy ending

Lewis meeting Jade for the first time Image copyright Danielle Cooper
Image caption Lewis meeting assistance dog Jade for the first time

A County Antrim boy has been rewarded with a dog that will help him cope with Asperger syndrome after writing a special letter.

Lewis Millar, 10, was on the waiting list for an assistance dog for four years and he wrote the letter as part of the assessment process.

This week, Jade - a black Labrador - joined Lewis' family in Connor, near Ballymena, just in time for Christmas.

Jade will help keep him safe when Lewis is on trips away from the house.

The dog will also provide emotional support to Lewis at home.

Lewis' mum, Danielle Cooper, explained that he finds his emotions very hard to regulate and has problems reading other people's reactions, which means he can seem quite rough with other children.

"He loves movement, swings, running, jumping, anything that is aggressive exercise. He would play football for hours.

"He has very high anxiety. He hears noises at night that aren't there," Danielle added.

Image copyright ADNI
Image caption Jade was a model for the ADNI Christmas card

Lewis also suffered a bereavement recently when a close school friend died.

Assistance dogs for children with autism (Aperger's is a form of autism) have two roles.

The children often have an instinct to run away if they are frightened.

When out and about, the child wears a backpack tethered to the dog. The dog sits down if the child goes to run away.

At home, the dog becomes the child's best friend, reducing anxiety and providing a steadying influence.

Danielle encouraged Lewis to write a letter explaining why he would like a dog.

Image copyright Danielle Cooper
Image caption Lewis' dog, Jade, is already a member of the family

In his letter, Lewis wrote that if he had a dog he wouldn't be scared to go upstairs at bedtime, to come downstairs to get his cereal or to watch TV.

"I would feed it and care for it because I would love it more than anything," he wrote.

"If it was with me it would be like Superdog to me. I probably wouldn't even be scared to go to the forest. I love dogs more than anything."

Jade should also help Lewis interact with his four siblings as they will all become friends with the dog.

Geraldine McGaughey of the Limavady-based charity ADNI (Assistance Dogs Northern Ireland), will never forget the letter.

"It was the most emotional assessment I've ever done. It was a tearjerker," she said.

Danielle says that even though Jade has only been with the family for a few days "it's been going really well. It's been like an early Christmas present".

"To get lying on the sofa with your son beside you and the dog in the middle is amazing," Danielle says.

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