Apex family hopes service dog will help daughter with autism

(Kelly Kennedy | CBS North Carolina)

APEX, N.C. (WNCN) — Children with autism can have trouble navigating the world around them, but one Apex girl will soon have a canine companion by her side to act as her tour guide.

“Every day can be a daily struggle with Eliana,” said Tara Deane, Eliana’s mother. “You honestly don’t know what you’re gonna get that day.”

Eliana Deane is your typical four-year-old in many ways. She loves to laugh and to play outside.

“She has times where she’s overly happy,” said Deane. “She has times where she wants to be held she has times where she’s aloof in her own world.”

Deane adopted Eliana from an orphanage in China two years ago. She has albinism, is visually impaired, and is on the autism spectrum. She can’t speak and has trouble socializing.

“We tried different medical options and none of that has worked for us,” said Deane. “So, when we heard about the autism service dogs we thought that could really be a breakthrough for her and something she could really connect to.”

That led Deane to Rycon, a local nonprofit started by an Apex man who can relate to Deane’s struggles first hand.

“I’m an engineer by trade, and I can tell you I don’t get as much job satisfaction from the technical side of the fence as I do working with these wonderful families and these dogs,” said Mark Mathis, Owner of Rycon.

Mathis also has a son on the autism spectrum. Mathis thought training a service dog could be a way to help him. He was right, he said.

“As I was going out and doing more and more with Ella, which was my son Brian’s dog, parents just kept approaching and asking if we could do a dog for them and then do another dog. And then it became obvious there was not only a need, but a real catharsis to interact with families that are in the same place that you are,” said Mathis.

So Mathis began training autism service dogs right in his own backyard. He typically trains about 12 dogs a year. Butters is a seven-month-old briard, and right now she’s being specially trained for Eliana.

“She’s jealously attentive to her charge,” said Mathis. “She wants nothing more than to breathe the same air as Elian,a and when she talked with the Deane family it became clear that that would be a really good fit for her.”

“We know she’s gonna make a real connection to her, and Butters is gonna act as a bridge between Eliana and the rest of the world. … We’re hoping it will help her put the pieces together,” said Deane.

Eliana has met Butters a few times and right now she’s still warming up to her.

“We know once she is living with us and they’re together 24/7, they’re going to develop a great bond and become best friends,” said Deane.

The Deanes started a GoFundMe page to raise the $12,500 they needed for Butters. Thanks to a $3,500 check from Triangle Veterinary Referral Hospitals that they received Wednesday, the family has reached their goal. They are still accepting donations for supplies for Butters at the site.

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