Maxim Lemesh & Autism Assistance Dog Vaughn
Thirteen years ago, Alena, Mikalai and Mikita Lemesh came to America from Belarus, a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. Eight years ago, the family welcomed newborn Maxim (Max) to the family.
The Lemeshes began to worry about Max at the age of two because he still wasn’t verbal. Max also flipped his hands in repetitive motions and wouldn’t play with toys like other children his age. “We were worried about Max and took him to see our pediatrician. The pediatrician confirmed Max’s signs for autism so we got him tested by the district. Six months later, his diagnosis was validated,” said Alena, Max’s mother.
Now Alena and Mikalai of Champlin, Minn. work opposite shifts to support Max and his needs. Alena notes, “It’s really difficult. Daycare costs a lot in the first place, but it’s hard to find a daycare for a child with special needs.” Max attends school where he’s in a class of eight along with a teacher and classroom support.
Alena first learned about Can Do Canines during a company-wide giving campaign kick off. She felt that the organization might be able to help Max and her family, so she sent in her application for an Autism Assistance Dog.
Vaughn, a calm and gentle two-year-old black Labrador Autism Assist Dog was matched with Max. He is specially trained for Max’s multiple needs. Vaughn acts as a steady anchor while out in public with Max. This happens through the specially designed belt that connects Max and Vaughn together so that Max can’t bolt from his family. Alena said, “Max is pretty fast. He bolts out into the street and he doesn’t understand the safety issues. When I chase after him and yell for him to stop he thinks it’s a game so he continues to run.”
Vaughn also acts as a social bridge for Max while out in public. “We hope that Vaughn’s presence will redirect the public’s attention from certain thoughts to understanding that Max is a little different,” says Alena. Along with redirecting the public’s attention, Vaughn helps to divert Max from self-harm by providing a calming presence while Max has his melt downs.
“Max has to concentrate on holding the handle that’s connected to Vaughn. It’s a totally new feeling for him which means it’s easier to go out and take walks around the neighborhood, or go to parks and playgrounds.”
Many people are involved in training Can Do Canines assistance dogs and Alena is well aware of the impact that each person has had on Vaughn’s life. She smiles and says, “A big thank you for taking such good care of Vaughn! He is so well behaved and I appreciate all of the hard work the team did to get him ready for Max.”
“It’s not just 1 to 2 people who train the dogs. It took a lot of people to bring Vaughn to the level he’s at in order to help Max with his special needs.”
To the donors and supporters of Can Do Canines, Alena says, “We wouldn’t have been able to afford Vaughn. The donors provided such a wonderful opportunity for us! I not only appreciate their donations, but I try to pay it forward.” Alena fundraises for the annual Woofaroo walk as well as helping to spread the word about Can Do Canines so more people are aware of the organization. Thank you to everyone who helped make Max and Vaughn a wonderful team!
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Puppy Raiser – Christie Jones