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Boy's best friend Mum appeals for support as service dog transforms life of youngster with autism

This week, Max (7) went on a 40-minute walk with his best friend Jangle - a milestone his family could only have dreamed of.

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Max doesn’t need a buggy outdoors

Max doesn’t need a buggy outdoors

Max Gainor with Doodle, who goes everywhere with him

Max Gainor with Doodle, who goes everywhere with him

Jangles loves his owners

Jangles loves his owners

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Max doesn’t need a buggy outdoors

Meet the loveable pooch who has transformed the life of a little boy with autism.

Just over a year ago, Max Gainor struggled so much with movement and muscle tone that even a short walk was a challenge for him. He spent most of his time outdoors being wheeled in a buggy.

This week, Max (7) went on a 40-minute walk with his best friend Jangle - a milestone his family could only have dreamed of.

After initial training with his human family, Jangle underwent extensive training with Irish charity My Canine Companion last year which was tailored to meet Max's needs. In the year since, his life - and the lives of all the family - have been transformed," said mum Tanya.

"We got the most amazing puppy we could have ever wished for. He has given my son confidence and independence, and he keeps him safe. Max used to have to be in a buggy everywhere we went, but now he is attached to his best friend, and is so proud holding that handle when he is walking by his side."

Max, who also has an intellectual disability, suffers from weak muscle tone and hypermobility in his joints, which also leaves him physically very tired. Before Jangle, a golden doodle, came along he couldn't walk for any great distance.

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Max Gainor with Doodle, who goes everywhere with him

Max Gainor with Doodle, who goes everywhere with him

Max Gainor with Doodle, who goes everywhere with him

"That's how Jangle has helped him with his joints, he's made him more active so that now he's stronger and he can walk further," adds Tanya.

"The short walks started for five minutes to build up the strength in his muscles. Now he's walking 40 minutes and he's not in a buggy any more. Max is non verbal as well so it's hard for him to communicate. But he sees Jangle as a tool to communicate with us. When he wants to leave a place he goes to Jangle and holds his handle."

There's been another huge benefit, said Tanya. When her boy and his dog are attached, it means members of the public can see that he has challenges.

"Jangle has given people the awareness to see there's a little boy who needs a bit of extra help. People will stop in traffic to let them cross, it's brought them so much respect and helped people to understand. As a mammy it's been very emotional. Before he used to be in a buggy, now he's so proud and relaxed when he's walking."

She added that the two-year-old dog has been of huge benefit to the entire family, including dad Ray and little sister LolaRae.

"He helps the whole family and he's great company for LolaRae."

Tanya had overcome a lifelong fear of dogs to embrace the arrival of the assistance dog into their family home in Tallaght, Dublin.

"The idea of getting a service dog made me so frightened and scared. I was that person that would not enter someone's house if there was a dog in their house, or I'd cross the road when I saw one walking towards me.

"Then I saw a video online, of how amazing these dogs can be for children with autism, and it made me think how much my son really needed one of these dogs. I put my fear aside, and had to do what was best for my son, Max. The best thing I have ever done was decide to get a service dog for Max."

Following an assessment with Cork-based charity My Canine Companion, the family was placed on a waiting list. Tanya credits the organisation with being "incredibly understanding" of her fear, and they encouraged her to attend socialisations where she would meet other dogs and parents.

The puppy moved into his new home with the family before returning to Cork last year for months of specific mobility and guidance training.

"Now I love him so much, I love him like he was another child. He gets me out of the house in the evening, he's helping my mind because having a child with autism can be very hard. He really makes me feel better and he's well matched to Max because Max is quite chilled and so is Jangle. He's like the dog version of Max!

"In the last couple of weeks Max has started using a scooter because his walks with Jangle have given him the strength and independence to do that. He's come along in so many different ways."

She's telling her story, she said, to raise awareness of how My Canine Companion changes the lives of families. The charity, she added, gets no Government funding and has been hit hard by the pandemic. She wants other families to benefit from the charity's work the way hers has.

My Canine Companion have launched a virtual event, encouraging people to walk a mile a day for 30 days for the charity.

  • For more information on their work and how you can support it, go to mycaninecompanion.ie.

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