Welcome to my Blog, a place where the issues concerning the state of the dog in the states of the nation are presented on a weekly basis. To read more about the National Dog Week movement, please see ABOUT.

“The dog was created specially for children. He is the god of frolic.”  Henry Ward Beecher, American, 1813-1887

The month of April showers us with all kinds of meaningful observances; April brings us ASPCA, National Pet, Pet First Aid and Prevent Lyme in Dogs Month.  But we are also in the middle of Autism Awareness Month and that, too, presents a fascinating link to the world of canines.

Blog Note: The Month of May is Be Kind to Animals Month and this blog will be filled with stories about those who employ “simple” and direct ways to help all animals; Bags for Cats, Covers for Critters, Matts4Mutts, and Kongs for shelter dogs…how will you be kind to the animals during May and all year ’round?

Of all of my first one-hundred posts on this site, the one that has attracted the most consistent interest was the one that presented NJ Dog Whisperer Janice Wolfe of New Jersey, and the work she and her Service dog, Wyatt do to help children diagnosed with Autism and Asperger Syndrome. That post can be read in the Archives of September 14, 2010.

Janice and Wyatt have gotten a lot of attention since then due in part to the coverage they have received in media outlets like USA Today and the New York Daily News when Wyatt, a two-year old Rhodesian ridgeback, became the recipient of the ACE Award. Presented by the American Kennel Club, the American Canine Excellence (ACE) Award was bestowed on Wyatt for his incredible work with young people with special needs.

I thought that as I began writing the first of my next one-hundred posts, I would revisit Janice and let her tell everyone what is going on in her life…

Janice with ACE Award-winning Wyatt

LBK: Please explain why you continue to provide service dogs, free of charge, to children with special needs.

JW: Through my organization, Merlin’s Kids (http://www.merlinskids.com) I rescue shelter dogs and train them to work with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger Syndrome. The dogs I train have been carefully selected by me and matched with a suitable child, and family.

LBK: Can all dogs be trained as Service dogs?

JW: No, not every dog is suited for this kind of specialized service work. I rescue and train Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Ridgeback-mixes and sometimes Golden retrievers. As a breeder of Ridgebacks for 23 years, I am very familiar with their temperament and capabilities, but not every Ridgeback will succeed as a service dog.

Good service dogs are hard to find. Even among organizations that train them from puppyhood, I would say that only one in approximately eight will go on to become successful Service dogs. There are no guarantees despite the best efforts of the most qualified trainers. There are so many variables involved. Besides proper training, the most important aspect is placing the right dogs with the right kids, and their families.

Out of every dog I rescue, only about two out of five will make it as a Service dog. Every dog is so different. My dog, Wyatt, for example, is a born natural. I don’t work with puppies, only adult dogs because their temperaments are already formed and by observing them and spending time with each dog, I can see if they are trainable or suitable for this kind of work.

LBK: What does it cost for you to train a dog and how many do you “graduate” each year?

JW: It costs between $8-12K to train a Service dog. In 2009, I placed 61 dogs, but last year, I could only place 28, unfortunately, due to lack of funds.

LBK: Can you comment on your roles as a breeder and a rescuer? Is there a place for both in the dog world?

JW: Yes, I think there is a place for both. Each year, I am likely to produce two Ridgeback litters. Many of my dogs go on to be Show dogs, too. I like to think that for each four new lives I bring into the world through my dogs, I rescue about sixty or so. But on that note, it is a sad fact that somewhere between 4 to 6 million dogs in this country are put down each year, so in rescuing the ones that I can, I hope I am doing some good.

LBK: While it is obvious that the highly trained dogs you provide bring security and comfort to so many, are there any drawbacks?

JW: The most important thing for these kids is their socialization and the learning of life skills. While a dog can help these kids to be independent, it should not become a crutch.  There was the case of one little girl in Florida who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.  She wanted a dog that would protect her from classmates who were teasing her; a friendly companion who she could use as a buffer between her and the world. While this is understandable, it doesn’t solve her problems of being an active participant in the world, so it was agreed that she could bring her dog to school each Friday afternoon.  

LBK: Can dogs really be part of the classroom experience?

JW: Under the law, it is your right to have a Service Dog where and whenever one is needed. I am an advocate for Service dogs in the classroom. Of course, there are many considerations involved. The school must be supportive, and the teacher must become part of the training program. Safety for all of course is extremely important. If you give a child a dog he or she cannot handle, it is like giving a ten-year old the keys to a car.

LBK: You talk about Adaptive Behavior Therapy (ABT), can you explain this concept?

JW: IN ABT, the therapy must be suited to the individual. No two autistic children are the same and will not respond to the same treatment; the one-size fits all mentality does not work. I would love to work with more trained therapists who are in-line with this approach.

LBK: Tell us about your plans for the Merlin’s Kids Camp for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

JW: Our plans are moving forward, but slowly. The camp, that is being designed with the input of my good friend, Temple Grandin, will be a haven for these kids and their families. It will be a place filled with dogs, horses, alpaca, guinea hens, reptiles and fish. It will offer a Wild West theme, providing opportunities for attendees to learn work and life skills while having fun. This is very important, because one of the greatest fears these parents have is what will happen to their child when they are not able to care for them any longer? This camp will give them hope.

But, as you can imagine, this all takes a great amount of money and resources. We are in need of so many things, among them, cash donations, barn wood, furniture donations (with rounded edges) the services of contractors, building supplies, pet food and supplies for the animals, legal services, etc…You can go to the Merlin’s Kids Website to find out how to make donations.

Wyatt takes a break at Brick Townships Dog Fest last September

In her work, Janice embodies the true spirit of Captain Will Judy who started the National Dog Week Movement 83 years ago to celebrate the value of dogs in our world. I thank Janice for taking time to talk with me. I encourage you to go to http://www.merlinskids.com to read more about her work.