Harry was diagnosed with high functioning autism (aged 7) in 2010. Life then was strictly structured around Harry in order to help reduce his anxieties, especially any change in routine. Harry used to spend a lot of time on his own, not joining in with the family.
Mum Ceri investigated ways to help Harry and found Dogs for Good’s Family Dog workshops. Ceri attended the series of three workshops which were very clear about the benefits and challenges that dog ownership would bring. Soon afterwards a Border Terrier puppy was found nearby and, using the Family Dog Team’s expert advice and techniques, Ceri prepared the whole family for the day he joined the family.
“In advance we established family rules, such as leaving Barnaby in peace when in his crate, praising good behaviour and never shouting at him or making him fearful of us, initially all written down and displayed because Harry is very visual,” says Ceri. Harry didn’t want Barnaby to be allowed in his room, because he felt this was his space, and this too was respected.
The family carefully planned looking after Barnaby for the first five weeks, with both parents and older sister Beth sharing Barnaby duty. “I’m sure this is what made it successful for us. We still had lots of challenges during the puppy stage – particularly Barnaby’s obsession with toes when Harry needed to go barefoot (solved by croc shoes), but it was definitely worth it,” she says.
“It feels as though Barnaby has been part of our family forever,” Ceri says, “and there have been so many benefits. We get out and about as a family far more now. We’ll often go down the local fields or the beach and play football with Barnaby, which Harry wouldn’t have entertained before.” The family has also been on successful holiday trips to Center Parks and to the Forest of Dean with Barnaby.
Barnaby senses when Harry is anxious and will sit by him. Ceri explains: “He doesn’t ask for anything or need communication from Harry and Harry allows him to be next to him (whereas if we tried to touch him he might become more upset). It’s obvious that Barnaby means a great deal to Harry. He keeps a photo of his special dog under his pillow, “Just looking at it makes me happy”, he says.
Ceri says: “The biggest, most positive change has been the change of focus for us as a family –this has been beneficial for all of us but particularly Beth. Our world isn’t all about Harry any more, it’s about Barnaby.”