Trent Korpela and Autism Assist Dog Georgie
Second-grader Trent enjoys swinging on his tire swing and going on walks and hikes. His parents say he’s very active and always on the move. “He loves balloons,” adds Dorothy, Trent’s younger sister; specifically, letting them go and watching them float up into the sky.
Trent has autism and has been receiving therapies since the age of two. Now at 8 years old, he’s adjusting to life with a furry helper by his side.
Trent’s parents, Kelly and Paul, got Trent on the Can Do Canines waiting list when he was 3 and a half. “With autism, there’s a waitlist for everything,” says Kelly. In May of 2018, he was matched with Georgie, a loving Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever mix.
Before Georgie, when the family would go shopping Trent would have to sit in the cart. “He hasn’t looked like he’s belonged in the cart for the last few years,” says Kelly. But it was the only way to keep him from running away, and it was easier to keep his anxiety under control. Now Trent can ditch the cart and walk on his own two feet with the help of four paws. “As long as we have Georgie with, [Trent] sticks close by.”
Thanks to Georgie’s calming presence and ability to keep Trent from running away, the family experiences more independence. “We go places now,” Kelly says. “I never would have taken [Trent] in public by myself before.”
Trent wears a belt that connects to Georgie’s cape and he holds onto a handle that’s also attached to her cape. Although he will occasionally drop the “Georgie handle” if he sees something that really interests him, he can’t bolt because he’s still connected to her with the belt. If he tries to run, Georgie plops down and stays put, making sure Trent can’t get away and allowing Kelly or Paul to help get Trent back on track.
Georgie has changed the public’s perception of the family. Because autism is an invisible disability, when meltdowns occur in public many people cast judgment upon the families. With an assistance dog, autism becomes visible, and the Korpelas are grateful for this. “Having [Georgie] with is an obvious sign to people that something is going on,” says Kelly. “We’re treated better now when we go out. People get it now that we have a service dog,”
Although Trent doesn’t enjoy the slobbery kisses Georgie gives, he loves brushing her and petting her soft coat. “[Georgie] is anxiety relief for [Trent]. He visibly shakes when we’re at clinics. But he pets her and she calms him down,” says Kelly. In addition, Trent likes to cuddle up under his weighted blankets and say, “squish me,” to which Georgie replies by jumping on the bed and putting her weight on him.
The Korpelas are thankful for Georgie and the volunteers and donors who made her possible for their family. “We’re so lucky … I think of [Georgie] as one of the kids. The more helpful kid,” laughs Kelly. “Thank you. Keep up the good work,” she says. “I know there’s other families like us who feel trapped in the house.”
So the next time you see a balloon in the sky, floating by as free as can be, perhaps it’s a message from Trent letting us know he feels free too.
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Great Start Home: The Skovran family
Puppy Raiser: The Patterson family
Whelping Home: The Merkel family
You: Thank you for your donations!