Service pooch joins companion in class (video)

A four-legged staffer will soon be attending Horizon School in Olds. Ily, a golden retriever cross, will enter the ranks of the special needs school later this month. The two-year-old dog will ride the bus with his 13-year-old autistic companion from their Didsbury home before reporting to work at the school.

With Emma Legris

With Emma Legris

A four-legged staffer will soon be attending Horizon School in Olds.

Ily, a golden retriever cross, will enter the ranks of the special needs school later this month.

The two-year-old dog will ride the bus with his 13-year-old autistic companion from their Didsbury home before reporting to work at the school.

The family of the young girl has requested she will not be named.

Ily will spend his day at his companion’s side where the teenager will study as usual. Ily will help reduce anxiety and increase his companion’s personal safety.

Cathy Grills, mother of the girl, said autistic children do not have a built-in sense of danger and tend to wander away from family without a moment’s notice.

Since Ily joined their family, Grills said she feels a sense of relief over her daughter’s well being in certain situations.

“Before we got Ily, she would bolt,” said Grills.

“A lot of autistic children bolt and they bolt into traffic. A lot of them have no fear of fire or dangerous things.”

Grills said her daughter loves all forms of transportation and would run into the street and try to stop cars and trucks.

“He’s helping and he’s part of the family,” said Grills.

“It’s hard to remember what it was like before Ily.”

Ily came home with the family in March but needed time to bond with the family before heading to work with the teenager.

He graduated from the nonprofit Dogs with Wings Assistance Dog Society in Edmonton this year.

Maria Illes, society training director, said about 50 dogs graduate each year from the academy.

This includes guide dogs, service dogs, assistance dogs and autism dogs.

Illes said in schools there are dogs that are placed with teachers to work with more children or dogs like Ily that work individually with a child.

“We are getting more requests for dogs in schools,” she said.

There is also a waiting list for service dogs.

The Grills waited for nearly three years before they welcomed Ily.

Depending on the person’s needs, it may six months to two years before a dog is placed.

The cost for a full grown dog is $40,000, which includes veterinarian bills and dog food.

The client who takes a dog home pays $1 for the loan of the dog.

The nonprofit organization generally asks the client to help with fundraising but this is not mandatory.

The school held an assembly on Thursday to welcome the new four-legged pooch to the school.

He spent two days at the school helping students familiar with protocol.

Students at Olds Elementary, which share the same playground, were also at the assembly.

Principal Heather Linski said it was important for the other 19 students in the school to understand what they are allowed to do around the dog.

Linski said Ily is to be ignored.

Students are not supposed to talk to him, make eye contact or pet him because he is working.

Linski said there were some concerns about preventing the children from petting the pooch.

“I know it will be hard to look into those big brown eyes and ignore him,” said Linski.

“We came up with some protocols and safety around all students and staff for the dog when he is here.”

This is the first service dog with an autistic background training working in Chinook’s Edge School Division.

The local Red Deer branch of Dogs with Wings is looking for puppy raisers to look after puppies for a year. For more information go to

On Twitter @crystalrhyno

— copyright Red Deer Advocate

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