P.E.I. student with autism learning with help of canine companion

Dogs are often described as man's best friend and that's certainly true for Oliver Rukavina, 15, and his service dog, Ethan. Ethan will sit quietly with Rukavina in the classroom, a comforting presence to the young man who has autism.

The English language school board has now developed a province–wide policy for service dogs

Oliver Rukavina and his service dog, Ethan, attend Birchwood Intermediate School in Charlottetown. (CBC)

Dogs are often described as man's best friend and that's certainly true for Oliver Rukavina, 15, and his service dog, Ethan, a Standard poodle.

Ethan will sit quietly next to Oliver in the classroom, a comforting presence to the young man, who has autism. Oliver says Ethan is "nice, kind, cares for me."

Peter Rukavina says the dog has made an extraordinary difference in his son's life over the past couple of years, but especially since the poodle started accompanying Oliver to class two weeks ago.

"Ethan is part of Oliver's life and so school is part of Oliver's life and so it makes sense. Ethan goes everywhere with Oliver, it would be unusual for Ethan not to come to school eventually," said Rukavina.

Ethan was trained at a guide dog school in Ontario as an autism assistance dog and just recently started going to school.

Ethan, a Standard poodle, is an autism assistance dog. (CBC)

No petting, no treats

The English language school board has now developed a province–wide policy for service dogs, which went into effect in April 2015. The policy states, "The successful implementation of a service dog in an educational environment depends on clear communication, a well‐informed school community and careful planning." 

Some of that careful planning involves a service dog request form with proof of up–to–date vaccinations as well as making sure the school administration consults with the students and staff about "allergies, fears, extreme phobias, or religious consideration."

Ethan accompanies Oliver Rukavina to his classes and provides a comforting presence. (CBC)

There also needs to be a service dog support person to help with the handling and care of the dog.

The goal is to make the service dog transition into school as smooth as possible for everyone.

There was no policy before Ethan came to Birchwood Intermediate School, but school officials say there are likely to be other dogs in the future, so rules are now in place.  

There was even a school assembly to go over those rules — no petting and no treats.

Both the family and the school say it's going well with Ethan, the canine is becoming a regular part of the school day.

There are strict rules about how people other than Ethan's handlers should engage with the dog - no petting and no treats. (CBC)


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