Autism Parenting Magazine Issue 74 (Member's Dashboard) - Page 46

AUTISM SOLUTIONS Families with autism assistance dogs show no intent to harm, but rather a lack of education. Assistance dog programs are expensive and tend to focus on the productivity of the dog rather than addressing the needs of the dog and educating the family on the responsibilities of dog ownership. between child and dog may not be as strong as the average service dog team; autism teams are unique in that the dog is expected to bond with both the child and the parent handler. The dog takes com- mands from the parent but is attached to a child who usually has trouble showing loving emotions (Burrows, Adams & Millman, 2008). Families with autism assistance dogs show no intent to harm, but rather a lack of education. Assistance dog programs are expensive and tend to focus on the productivity of the dog rather than addressing the needs of the dog and educating the family on the responsibilities of dog ownership. Establishing an advisory team consisting of veterinarians, trainers, and animal-behavior specialists to provide ongoing monitoring and education could better manage the dog’s performance and welfare (Burrows et al., 2008). Dogs rank toward the high end of the brain com- plexity spectrum and so should be protected from pain and fear (Grandin, 2002), and yet no state laws specifically protect the welfare of autism assistance dogs. These dogs often face stressful situations that most assistance dogs do not face such as long work hours without breaks and stressful situations in the home, yet neither assistance dog organizations nor the law addresses this ethical dilemma. Assistance dog organizations act as moral agents and have role-related responsibilities to the dogs they place along with recipient families. These responsibil- ities include an obligation to protect the dogs from harm. If organizations place autism assistance dogs without additional support and education for the fam- ilies receiving the dogs, a dog or child could ultimate- ly be seriously harmed. If dogs or children are known to be harmed in such placements, future placements, which we know to be beneficial to children with au- tism and their families, could be impacted. 46 | Autism Parenting Magazine | Issue 74 As the issue currently needs to be addressed from an ethical rather than a legal basis, specific guide- lines regarding work time and expectations of au- tism assistance dogs should be developed, with the assistance of veterinarians and animal behaviorists. At a minimum, organizations should provide fami- lies with written information describing the needs of autism assistance dogs, possible expenses incurred through dog ownership, the pitfalls that could occur after placement, basic recommendations to assist with behavioral issues, and a list of local trainers, ani- mal behaviorists, and veterinarians in the area where the family lives. Assistance dog organizations that place autism assistance dogs should also require adult family members to sign commitments that in- clude these guidelines, thus removing any ambigui- ty regarding the dog’s welfare. In addition, autism assistance dog providers need to protect the dog and provide ongoing family support through follow-up visits after placement to evaluate when and if bonding occurs and how families can best care for both dog and child. Researchers also need to conduct studies that can support the cre- ation of educational programs as well as state laws protecting working dogs from harm within their ser- vice relationships. These organizations are permitted to place dogs with families without fully investigating the family’s needs, home environment, and expectations. How- ever, organizations must be ethically bound to in- vestigate and discuss the behaviors of the children involved in the placement and assess parental over- sight. Some children with autism move erratically, may pull food or toys away from dogs, or may show aggressive behavior toward dogs. Parents must be made aware that they are responsible for intervening on behalf of the dogs and redirecting their children to enhance bonding and minimize harm towards the