Video: Shelter dog rescues Penticton family dealing with autism

Cops For Kids cycled through the Okanagan, stopping in Penticton to help a family in need.

Matthew Devine

Matthew Devine

A little boy with autism needed a reliable companion and Lilly, a shelter dog, was looking for a forever home.

The pair have rescued each other.

“I cannot even express what Lilly has meant to us. To see the before and after with Matthew it is incredible and brings a tear to my eye,” said Crystal Devine, mom to six year old Matthew.

However, getting a service dog comes with a cost. One that Devine could not afford as a single mom who doesn’t have a full-time job because she needs to care for Matthew 24 hours a day.

Devine said it was “kismet” she met someone while exercising at the Penticton Community Centre pool that mentioned her granddaughter has autism and the family immediately saw positive change in her life once they received a service dog. Devine started looking into it and found the application process in both B.C. and Alberta for a service dog was backlogged two years. Knowing the help it would bring her son and the peace of mind it could bring her, she would not be deterred.

“It is very stressful. Matthew’s impulsive nature makes him an escape risk, he has no safety conscious and is very limited vocally,” she said. “We started looking for alternatives. But, as a single mom paying for our own dog would be impossible. It is hard enough to put groceries on the table, there is no way I could get extra money for the dog.”

A GoFundMe account helped raise the money they needed to purchase Lilly, an Australian sheltie found at the No Paws Left Behind dog rescue in Oroville, Wa. In April, with the help of Cheri Kolstad, who trains service dogs in Penticton with Mutts and Motorcycles, Lilly came to her new home.

“It is quite incredible. They are best friends and had this instant bond the moment they met, words started falling out of his mouth and now he has purpose with his words. Lilly has helped draw in the neighbourhood kids too, so now Matthew has made some new friends,” said Devine.

Estimated to be about one year old, Lilly has already taken on the role of Matthew’s secondary caretaker. The cattle dog does what comes natural to her and helps reign Matthew in and more importantly allows Devine peace of mind.

“For me, it is a big stress relief. I am able to sleep at night knowing she is laying on his floor. Before it was with one eye open and jumping up if I heard a hiccup or a sigh because I would never know what could happen if he got out of bed or out of his room. If he even makes a move at night she immediately comes to my room, puts her head on my bed and gives a whimper. She is a whiz and just incredibly intuitive with him,” said Devine.

With assistance from the Cops For Kids fundraising ride she can now afford to get Lilly specialty training to bring her up to service dog status. Cyclists from RCMP detachments and supporting agencies set out on their trip on Sept. 11, stopping in Penticton to deliver the good news. The cyclists continued through the area on a 10-day journey to raise awareness and essential funds for children in a medical, physical or traumatic crisis.

Rob Gardner, from the Comox Valley RCMP detachment, said the stories they hear from parents are amazing and worth any bit of pain they endure while cycling to 18 different communities in southeastern B.C. Funding also went to a special seat for a girl in a wheelchair and iPads and other equipment to other families.

“The one thing that we always remember though, even on a day like today, when we are sore, our shoulders are sore, we’re going to go to bed tonight and we are going to feel good about it. The kids that we’re helping they can’t do that. They are in pain all the time. We are always thinking about them when we’re riding these hills, we always reflect on the kids we’ve met. That’s what makes a huge difference,” said Gardener.

Devine and her son could not be more grateful.

“I just can’t thank them enough. Along with the community that has helped at OSNS and Queen’s Park school, Matthew wouldn’t be moving forward where he is today,” said Devine. “A service dog for Matthew isn’t recognized as a medical need, but Cops For Kids have helped us in this pioneering journey and we are so appreciative for their help to make this a reality.”