Jenecie Karelis and Autism Assist Dog Xena
Seven-year-old Jenecie Karelis of Cambridge, Minnesota is enjoying new life experiences thanks to her very special dog, Xena, an Autism Assist Dog.
The challenges of daily life are extra difficult for Jenecie and her family. Even “simple” transitions can be a catalyst for a major meltdown. But that was before Xena. Now, life is a bit easier, transitions smoother, and new things a little less overwhelming. Jenecie has Xena by her side—her anchor, her focus, and her friend.
“Everything has changed with Xena here,” says Jenecie’s mom, Trish; she’s happy to share, “[Jenecie’s meltdowns] are less frequent, and when they do happen they don’t last as long. And, it’s just amazing how Xena goes to Jenecie; Xena just seems to know what Jenecie needs every time. Maybe Jenecie needs a snuggle or maybe a wiggly distraction and kisses—Xena’s never wrong.”
Xena has given Jenecie a focus and a new kind of independence. While she still needs Trish or Grandma Roxie, her primary caregivers, Jeneice’s reliance on them has shifted. Now Xena is the main audience for puppet shows, her afternoon reading buddy, and constant companion. “One of us [Trish or Roxie] is always nearby, but Jenecie just doesn’t need us the same way—we can actually get some things done because Jenecie has Xena with her.”
Trish is really excited to share how Xena is also helping Jenecie’s language skills progress. “Instead of always using her iPad or quietly coloring, Jenecie is talking to Xena and having Xena talk back and her reciprocal language skills are progressing.”
Another significant area Xena has impacted is trips to the store. “I used to do everything possible to just go to the store alone. More and more, Jenecie is going with me.” Now when the team goes to the store with mom, Jenecie is focused on Xena versus getting upset because she wants to leave or buy toys. “All I usually need to do now is tell Jenecie how Xena needs her help and instead of melting down Jenecie focuses on Xena.”
Jenecie has learned to take care of Xena by feeding her, brushing her, and playing fetch with her. “Learning to care for others versus just being cared for, learning life skills—these are all a special benefit for Jenecie.”
Language growth and learning to care for others are fringe benefits of an Autism Assist Dog; Trish notes how these skills will also affect Jenecie’s ability to successfully initiate relationships and it’s exciting to consider how the future is changing for Jenecie because of Xena.
Trish admits she didn’t really know what to expect life with an Autism Assist Dog to be like, and she is amazed by Xena’s instincts as well as her training. “It was really intimidating, all the unknowns; I am so thankful I didn’t let my fears get in the way.”
“I think of everyone who has made this possible—Xena for Jenecie—and I am just amazed; bless their hearts! The work and hours the volunteers have invested, the donors, everyone, we are just so thankful!”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Great Start Home: Stephanie Dunford
Puppy Raiser: The inmate handlers at FCI Duluth
Special Thanks: Erin Janke, Jill Rost
You: Thank you for your donations!