Autism Dog Services offers program for support dogs

Autism Dog Services (ADS) is looking for foster families to house puppies, as the demand for autism assistance service dogs increases. 

ADS is a volunteer-run charity organization, aiming to provide independence and companionship to children aged three to18 years old with autism, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, down syndrome and related disorders, through training and placing service dogs.

“I’m very, very proud and passionate of this organization,” Vicky Spadoni, executive director of ADS, said. 

Over the past several years, Spadoni has worked alongside a dedicated team of volunteers to coordinate a flexible and accessible training program for anyone interested in raising a puppy. 

“We offer regular training classes in Hamilton, Cambridge and Guelph, and pay for all the big ticket items including, the vet bills, crate, food, training equipment and public access jacket, so that the puppies can get socialized anywhere and everywhere when they’re young,” she explained. 

The socialization part of the training is a crucial part of the development of an Autism Assistance Service dog. 

“Puppy raisers subject their puppy to loud noises, crowds, community festivals, grocery stores and restaurants. All of it is grooming them to become a versatile, well-equipped dog that’s going to support a child and a family with autism or other,” Spadoni said.  

COVID-19 proved to be a challenge for the socialization aspect of ADS’s training program, as foster families were not able to socialize their puppies in proper community settings, due to  lockdowns.  

“It really affected us, not having the puppy raisers and dogs able to access community events when everything was closed,” Spadino said. 

Despite this setback, ADS has received support within the service dog industry. 

“We’ve had lots of offers for donated puppies from credible breeders, and we’ve been very honoured and well supported by other service dog organizations,” she said. 

Although the influx of puppies donated to ADS is wonderful news, the demand for puppy raisers to help these dogs through their training programs has increased. 

“Our problem is, we’ve got puppies, but we’re low on recruiting puppy raisers to get them started,” Spadino explained. 

With the increased demand of puppy raisers, ADS has made their training program fit to accommodate all foster families. 

“Puppy raisers can look different. They can get the puppy started for us and be a puppy starter, request an older dog, if that’s where their comfort level is––there’s lots of things that we can try to do to pivot and accommodate puppy raisers,” she said. 

ADS’s goal is to recruit as many people as they can who are interested in fostering and training a puppy. 

“We are quite concerned that we may have to turn puppies away from our program, and nobody is comfortable with that,” Spadino said. 

ADS is hoping that they will be able to recruit committed puppy raisers, to participate in this program. 

“We have had college students, university students, semi-retired volunteers, retired volunteers, and families with young children ––everyone over the age of 16 is welcome to apply,” she said. 

Additionally, after 12 to 18 months of training, puppy raisers are invited to participate in their dog’s graduation, when the dog gets placed with a new family.

“Once my advanced dog trainer feels that the dog is ready to be placed, they consult with client services, and they pick a family on our waitlist that we feel is a good match,” Spadino said. 

. “The puppy raiser gets invited to come back to graduation, to have that closure, and I tell you there’s never a dry eye in the room.”

The graduation ceremony is a full circle moment between puppy raiser and dog through demonstrating the impact the dog will have in their new placement––a rewarding experience. 

“When the puppy raiser takes the dog to the family, and the public access jacket is put on, the puppy raisers are actually able to meet and see how the dog benefits that child and that entire family,” she said. 

The impact the autism assistance service dogs have on the lives of children and their families is miraculous. 

“I’ve got testimonials where after the dog was placed in a home for three hours on a trial basis. The child was never verbal, never said ‘mama,’ never said ‘daddy,’ and after the dog was in the home for three hours was saying, ‘come doggy, come’ ––like not even just talking, but speaking sentences,” Spadino said. 

With the positive effect that autism service dogs have on children with autism, ADS is looking for individuals or families interested in raising a puppy to make a difference in these children’s lives. 

To apply for raising a puppy and proceeding with ADS’s training program, go to their website: to submit an application. 

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