Family want dog to help son with Asperger’s

NewsBy Paddy Murray
Mary Courtney with her son Darragh
Mary Courtney with her son Darragh

We love our dogs.

But for most of us, our four-legged friends are just that. Friends who bark a bit and wag their tails when they see us.

For others, a dog can be a life-changer.

Darragh Sinclair Courtney is just five years of age. He has Asperger syndrome and a dog could transform his life and that of his family.

“He was a beautiful baby,” Darragh’s mother Mary says.

 “At seven months, he was just perfect. He was saying ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ and everything was fine.”

But it was when they returned from a holiday in Portugal, that Mary noticed changes in Darragh’s behaviour.

“He began banging kitchen presses, opening and closing them over and over. He didn’t respond when we called his name. We thought he might be deaf.”

Mary and husband Darren brought their young son to their GP. Within two minutes, he suggested he had Asperger’s.

Mary managed to get Darragh into a HSE facility in Ballyboden, south Dublin, where he is one of just six children in one of the two units there.

But when that finishes, he faces mainstream school. His name has already been put down for one school not far from his home in the Dublin suburb of Terenure.

“His brothers are brilliant with him,” says Mary, referring to Patrick (13), Brian (11) and Ciarán (10).

“But it’s a struggle. He’s getting too big and strong. And he’s a ‘bolter’. He could run out under a truck without warning. If his dog is attached, it would stop him running off suddenly. And a dog can calm children, it can sense when a tantrum is about to come on.”

That’s why Mary now wants to get a dog for Darragh from My Canine Companion (MCC), an organisation set up four years ago by Cliona O’Rourke in Cork which has so far provided around 70 dogs for autistic children in Ireland.

“Each dog takes just about two years to train,” says Maggie McLaverty from MCC.

“They become the child’s best friend. And even if the child gives out to the dog occasionally, they don’t hold grudges. Their love is unconditional.”

It costs €10,000 to train a companion dog. And so Mary is fundraising.

On Friday, May 15, she’s holding a big quiz/raffle/auction night in Terenure Rugby Club.

You’ll find details about the night on Facebook: My Canine Companion.