This Ontario couple tried to adopt a dog. The rescue group said no because their son has autism

This Ontario couple tried to adopt a dog. The rescue group said no because their son has autism

by Sue Jones
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Mike and Erin Doan contacted an animal rescue group to adopt a dog after their son Henry, who’s non-verbal and recently began speaking with the help of software, asked for one. But the family was told they wouldn’t be a good fit because the nine-year-old has autism.

Henry Doan With His Parents

Erin and Mike Doan of Listowel, Ont., say they were disheartened to hear that their nine-year-old son Henry wasn’t going to get the pet he had asked for, after a rescue group said it doesn’t adopt out dogs to families with autism. (Submitted by Erin Doan)

Mike and Erin Doan of Listowel, Ont., began inquiring about adopting a dog this week after their nine-year-old son Henry communicated to them that he wanted one.

Henry is non-verbal and only recently began speaking with the help of special software installed on an iPad.

“He said, ‘Want a dog now,'” said Erin. “It makes us very happy because we’ve always been dog people, and we were holding off for a bit until we were sure that Henry was ready.

“Now we know he is.”

But, she said, the response was disheartening when the family asked about a puppy posted online by Kismutt Rescue outside St. Marys, Ont.

Henry Doan

Henry is non-verbal and recently learned to speak with the help of a Talker, an iPad equipped with special software. (Submitted by Erin Doan)

Erin said she wanted to be upfront, so when she requested a meet and greet with the animal rescue group, she told them her son has autism.

“I got an email back later, just basically saying, ‘Sorry, I hope you understand, but I don’t think based on your son’s autism that it would be a good fit.'”

When Erin asked for clarification, she was told the organization does not adopt out dogs to families with autism.

“In this day and age, there’s so much disinformation, and these kiddos and adults with autism, they’re wonderful people,” she said.

“For sure, there are some that have more behavioural issues than others, but to put a blanket policy in place without even meeting the kiddo and the family — it’s just really disheartening.

Just because one child had one meltdown or outburst, doesn’t mean every single child with autism is having outbursts with their animals.– Billie Wessel, mother of a two-year-old girl who has autism.

“Most parents would say my kid would never hurt a fly,” Erin said. “But [Henry] has so much love to give, and he’s just an empathetic little boy.”

Although Kismutt Rescue did not respond to multiple requests by CBC News, the organization wrote a lengthy post on Facebook about its policy against allowing families with a child with autism to adopt a dog.

“One of the hardest parts of rescue is the emotional aspect of it,” reads the post. “Making tough decisions, learning by mistakes and witnessing severe injury, disease and death in animals.”

Read the Kismutt Rescue post:

The post goes on to detail two separate occasions involving a child with autism who injured a dog after a Kismutt Rescue adoption. In one case, a child bit a dog. In the other, a child hit a dog with a fan.

“After the second incident with the second dog, I made a policy that NO dog will be adopted into homes with Autistic children,” the post says.

Billie Wessel of London, Ont., first read the rescue group’s post in a Facebook support group for parents whose children have autism.

“It’s honestly disgusting to read that because autism is a spectrum,” Wessel said.

Wessel Family

Billie Wessel with her partner, Denver Frank, their daughter Hazel and Snickers their dog. ‘I don’t think there should ever be a case where a child is discriminated against,’ says Wessel, a developmental service worker at Participation House Support Services in London, Ont. (Submitted by Billie Wessel)

“Just because one child had one meltdown or outburst doesn’t mean every single child with autism is having outbursts with their animals,” said Wessel, who has both a two-year-old daughter with autism and a pug named Snickers.

Wessel is also a developmental service worker at Participation House Support Services in London and works with adults who have autism.

“I don’t think there should ever be a case where a child is discriminated against,” said Wessel. “A regular functioning, ‘normal’ child could have aggression issues with a dog as well, the same way an autistic child could have a meltdown.”

It’s up to the parents of all children to assess what their particular child can handle, she said.

Hazel Frank And Snickers

Hazel Frank and the family dog Snickers. (Submitted by Billie Wessel)

As for the Doans family’s quest to get a family dog, they’re making progress. Another local dog rescue reached out to the family and hopes to work with them to find the perfect match.

“There’s some humanity out there again,” said Erin.

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