We want to celebrate International Assistance Dog Week with stories of how our incredible assistance dogs have changed lives for the better.
Joel was diagnosed with autism when he was seven and also has ADHD, speech, language and sensory impairment and a sleep disorder.
Caddie, a yellow Labrador x golden retriever, is his expertly-trained autism assistance dog and, in Joel’s own words, has been his ‘guardian angel’ since they were matched when Joel was nine.
As Caddie approaches his tenth birthday (in September), Joel’s mum, Janet, wanted to share with us her thoughts on the changes that Caddie has brought about for Joel and the rest of her family.
“Before we got Caddie, our world was full of darkness. We felt there was nowhere to go and no help to be had. Caddie and Dogs for Good changed all of that; bringing light, hope, happiness and a world of change.”
Janet says that the biggest single thing that Caddie has done is brought Joel into the wider world. “Before Caddie came along, Joel was very much locked in his own bubble. He wouldn’t go outside further than the few metres across the road to his school, he wasn’t speaking and was constantly pacing. Added to this, I was terrified he’d stop breathing at night because of his sleep apnoea.”
From the very first day that Caddie joined the family, Janet noticed a difference. “It was the first time that Joel smiled,” she remembers. “It was a little smile, but he smiled. Something I’d never seen before.
“He also agreed to go into the garden with Caddie and played ball with him. He’d not been outside for months. My husband and I stood there watching them and wept.”
The smiles continued and so did the changes in Joel. “With Caddie by his side, Joel’s confidence has soared. And that confidence means he is willing to try and do more things, which in turn gives him a fuller life.”
From a little boy who was locked in his own world, Joel went on to knock everyone’s socks off. “Five years after we got Caddie, Joel decided he wanted to enter the Crufts ‘Friends for Life’ competition and got through to being a finalist. It was something he wanted to do because he wanted to donate the prize money to Dogs for Good so that ‘another child can have a dog like Caddie,’” says Janet.
Joel and Caddie didn’t win but their story captured the hearts of the nation and the next day, Joel, Janet and Caddie appeared on ITV This Morning. “This involved a trip on a train to London, staying overnight in an hotel and then going in to a television studio,” says Janet. “So many things I thought that Joel would never, ever be able to do but he said as long as Caddie was with him, he’d be OK. He was so determined to do it and Caddie helped him reach his goal.”
Caddie has now been with Joel for eight years and recently, helped Joel sit his mock exams at school and was by his side as he sat for his school leaver photos.
“I never thought for one moment that my son would be able to finish school and now he’s planning on going to college,” says Janet. “None of this would have happened without Caddie. He’s been an absolute godsend.”
Caddie’s calming presence not only helps Joel but has brought wider benefits to the whole family. “Looking after a child with autism can be extremely stressful,” says Janet. “Going for a walk with Caddie and seeing him charging about and having fun or sitting on the sofa with him snuggled up to me fills me with joy and brings about a powerful change in mood.”
Without Caddie, Janet says that Joel’s world would be smaller. “Caddie brought my son back to me in the most extraordinary way. He has changed Joel’s life in so many ways and shown him a brighter future. What a wonderful journey we’ve all had!”
We receive over 5000 enquiries a year for our services and we rely on donations to continue to make life-changing partnerships like Joel and Caddie’s. If you’re able to help us, we’d be so grateful.Please donate today.