British Columbia

Service dog helps Victoria boy with autism stay safe

Nine year old Nolan O'Neill brings his dog Kieran to his grade 4 classroom every day. Kieran is an official member of the class and is a support dog for Nolan, who has autism.

Service dog has instilled pride in 9 year old with autism, helped him overcome anxiety

Nolan and his service dog with Thomas the Tank Engine in Squamish, B.C. (Michelle O'Neill)

Nine year old Nolan O'Neill brings his dog Kieran to his grade 4 classroom every day.

Kieran is an official member of the class and is a support dog for Nolan, who has autism.

"It's increased his independence and his confidence, it's lowered his anxiety. He's very proud of his dog," Michelle O'Neill, Nolan's mother, told On The Island's Gregor Craigie.

As a trained service dog, Kieran isn't just a companion — he keeps Nolan safe.

"Nolan does a lot of wandering and bolting behaviour. He does in the school, in the community, at home, so as a primary dog handler, I direct Kieran to sit and his body weight anchors Nolan with a lead that attaches to a belt Nolan wears, and it keeps him safe on outings," said O'Neill.

Service dog Kieran wears a special jacket that connects to a belt Nolan wears. (Michelle O'Neill)

Kieran has been with Nolan since March of 2014, and O'Neill said he has helped the family go on outings together — such as a trip to Squamish to see Thomas the Tank engine — where without Kieran, big crowds might have prevented Nolan from participating.

She said Nolan also acts as Kieran's guardian, and takes his role as pet owner seriously.

"Nolan's job is to walk his dog and to keep him healthy and happy. He takes a lot of joy in walking his dog around the neighbourhood."

To hear the full interview with Michelle O'Neill and Laura Mahoney of B.C. Guide Dogs, click the audio labelled: Support dog helps boy with autism.

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