REIDVILLE There is no greater friendship than that between a boy and his dog, and a child with autism has entered into a companionship that could help him for years to come.
Four-year-old Maverick Butt has received a dog from the Lions Foundation of Canada Guide Dogs. Maverick is high functioning but tends to run, and his family hopes the new dog, a black lab named Abner, will help keep him safe and help identify Maverick in public.
Abner came to the Butt family fully trained at age 14 months. Maverick will be tethered to Abner with a wrist piece and if he runs off the dog knows to act as an anchor, keeping Maverick from running out into a busy street.
His grandmother, Janet Butt, said the dog can also help identify her grandson.
“Autism is the invisible disability, people don’t realize Maverick has it,” she said. “The dog will help identify that to everyone around him when we’re out around with him.”
She said Abner will also help keep Maverick calm in situations where he might feel compelled to lose his temper, even though he seems like a calm little boy playing with his dog in the grass on a sunny day in Reidville.
“I love my dog, he can play ball,” said Maverick. “I can play anything with him, he’ll pick up a ball no matter how dirty is it.”
The dog was paid for by grants from the Lions Clubs in Deer Lake and Port Saunders. According to the guide dogs website, it costs about $20,000 to raise and fully train a typical dog.
Many people love dogs, and as such, Janet said they have noticed a temptation of people around them in public to ask if they can feed or pet him. She hopes people understand that this is no ordinary dog, and as such, they have to follow different rules.
“We can’t have people petting him or playing with him, he’s a working dog and if they see that he’s wearing his coat that means he can’t be distracted,” she said. “We have to follow dietary restrictions for him too.”
As part of the program, families cannot let their guide dogs gain more than five pounds and go underweight by more than two, so any food outside Abner’s diet could cause problems in the long run. If he gained too much weight, the foundation would send someone out to assess the situation.
Janet said the dog is safe from abuse because Maverick has never been the type of child to hit an animal. Maverick seems to love Abner, he hugs him and rubs his belly when Abner rolls over.
It’s the kind of scene families of small children relish when they introduce a dog into the household, only in this case, the dog could potentially save his owner’s life.