Gabriel (Gabe) O’Donnell, from Columbia Heights, Minn. is 10 years old and has autism. One morning before school, Gabe was outside and so upset about going to school that he refused to come inside the house and calm down. He was so focused in his anger and frustration that his tantrum kept him from listening to his mother Rebecca. Remembering how influential Ramsey is to Gabe, she said, “Gabe! Ramsey needs you to come inside!” Immediately after saying that, Gabe snapped out of his outburst and promptly came inside to greet Ramsey, his Autism Assistance Dog who is a two-and-a-half-year-old black Labrador Retriever.
Since Gabe was little, Rebecca had been scouring the internet looking for different kinds of treatment for kids with autism. She came across videos of children with autism interacting with assistance dogs and saw what a huge difference it made with their behaviors. She said, “We thought it was probably something that could benefit Gabe in a lot of ways and turns out it did!” Rebecca felt that Can Do Canines was the best program for their family and decided to apply.
Ramsey is specifically trained as an Autism Assistance Dog who helps Gabe with multiple aspects of his disability. While in public, Gabe wears a specially designed belt that connects to Ramsey’s pack, and his parents then hold Ramsey’s leash. If Gabe attempts to run (a common behavior for children with autism) or has a meltdown due to sensory overload, Ramsey will be a gentle, steady anchor that keeps Gabe safe until his parents can control the stressful situation. Ramsey also acts as a social buffer because his presence encourages Gabe to interact with other people and practice his verbal skills.
“Gabe’s temper tantrums are less frequent, they end more quickly and they tend not to be as intense now.”
Because of Ramsey, Gabe is noticeably more calm when he’s outside. The O’Donnells note that Ramsey can tune into when Gabe starts becoming upset and will hang around him until he calms down. Gabe will initiate a “visit” behavior from Ramsey, which means that Ramsey will come and rest his head on Gabe’s lap. This light pressure helps children with autism regain their focus and concentrate on the dog being with them, preventing or suppressing meltdowns. Ramsey will also lay in bed with Gabe which not only helps him sleep longer, but he’ll stay in his bed during the night. Tony, Gabe’s father chimed in saying, “Ramsey gives Gabe purpose. He knows he’s got tasks associated with Ramsey and does them because Ramsey is his buddy who takes care of him.”
“Because of Ramsey, we’re able to do things like go to the grocery store or run to Target! We can go out with Gabe and our family together.”
The O’Donnells were on the Can Do Canines wait list for three years until Gabe could be matched with Ramsey. Their advice to those who are waiting is, “Don’t give up. Have patience because it’s worth it!” Rebecca notes that she wasn’t a dog person until she met Ramsey. She exclaims, “I love that dog! His whole demeanor is really amazing and calming. Ramsey is easy to handle. He’s sweet and very loving to Gabe.”
Rebecca and Tony want the volunteers, Puppy Raisers, sponsors and donors to know that they feel so thankful to have Ramsey in Gabe’s life.
“Ramsey has made a difference in our lives. Everything about Gabe has changed. Having a dog that’s so driven to him has changed his attitude about a lot of things.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Puppy Raiser – Julie Bonebrake & Family
Special Thanks –The Inmate Handlers at the Federal Correction Institution at Sandstone; The Inmate Handlers at The Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault