Thursday, June 23, 2011

Family Receives Free Autism Service Dog

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - For Brockport resident Amy Johnson and her husband, Hal, life has not always been easy. Their 17-year-old daughter, Amber Wicks, has a rare brain disorder causing seizures, and their 7-year-old son, Rex, was diagnosed with autism when he was just 2.

Johnson says Rex is non-verbal and has a tendency to run away when faced with even small challenges, so safety has always been an issue. "When he was little, we were able to catch him, but now that he is faster, bigger and stronger, we have to keep locks on all of the doors to keep him safe."

But life is about to get significantly better for Rex and his family. Last month, Johnson found out Rex had won a free therapy dog from Siberian Snow Babies, a company that sells and trains autism service dogs. Johnson says she knew a dog would help her son but the cost — $20,000 to cover a full year of specialized training — was prohibitive.

As Johnson was researching dogs and planning fundraisers, she saw the Snow Babies' ad for a nationwide giveaway as a promotion to raise autism awareness. She immediately applied, creating a video of Rex interacting with dogs and assembling more than 20 pages of documentation and letters from Rex's doctors, teachers and friends.

"We were floored and shocked that we won this dog," Johnson says. They found out mid-May that out of all the applications, Rex was chosen to receive James, a newborn puppy that will be trained to specifically meet Rex's needs.

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