Rodney the “super dog” has brought comfort to young Betsy Charlton and her family.
Betsy, 10, from Radcliffe-on-Trent, was diagnosed with autism and global development delay at a very young age.
With limited communication skills and complex sensory needs, simple everyday tasks and outings can result in major challenges for the Charltons.
Like many autistic children, Betsy is a bolter with no sense of danger.
She is classed as non-verbal and has difficulty communicating her needs or expressing her feelings. She can articulate a range of words and sing songs in her own way, but would have numerous meltdowns a week that could happen any time and anywhere.
However, since welcoming her furry friend, meltdowns have reduced, and when they do happen, they’re often more manageable.
The four-year-old pooch has been trained by Support Dogs, a national charity which trains and provides dogs to help autistic children and adults with epilepsy or a physical disability to live safer, more independent lives.
Now Rodney is not just a constant comfort to Betsy, but also to her parents, Miles and Laura.
Miles said: “He has brought a level of harmony and togetherness back to the family which was becoming more disjointed caused by the challenges of parenting a non-neurotypical child.
“This is one of many unexpected benefits that Rodney has brought since his arrival – not only does he provide unconditional emotional support to Betsy, he provides it to the rest of the family as well.”
Rodney moved in with the family in July last year and after intensive training, Miles, Betsy and Rodney qualified as a partnership earlier this year.
“Things have improved since having Rodney; Betsy is much more accepting and amenable in more circumstances and environments due to Rodney’s calming and supportive nature,” said Miles.
“We don’t get the number or severity of meltdowns we used to get and with Rodney, it’s easier to distract Betsy.
“The most common distraction technique is for Betsy to feed Rodney, which helps her to regulate herself.”
Betsy’s bedtime routine was often really difficult, with the youngster taking hours to settle, before finally dropping off to sleep, sometimes not until the early hours.
But since Rodney the yellow Labrador entered the lives of the Nottinghamshire family, their outlook is a lot more positive – Rodney has a calming effect on Betsy, leading to quieter evenings and enjoyable family trips.
Miles says Rodney has made being away on holiday less stressful and allows easier access to places including theme parks and restaurants as a family, which had previously been more difficult because Betsy was prone to getting distressed or having meltdowns.
“So far we have stayed in the UK but we may look to go abroad in the next few years, which is an exciting prospect,” he added.
Betsy was diagnosed with autism at the age of three after the owner of her nursery noticed some developmental delays.
She has no real sense of danger and she could unexpectedly bolt away from her parents.
But when out and about, she is attached to the dog’s jacket with a belt and a handle to hold, while Miles holds the lead and gives commands.
Miles, 46, added: “No doubt, having Rodney has made going out with Betsy so much easier in that we’re not physically holding her hand or grabbing her to keep her off the road.
“On occasions, if we go out and haven’t got Rodney, she is more disciplined now and she hasn’t tried to run out onto the road. One of the commands is to get Rodney to sit at the kerb before crossing, and Betsy has started to say ‘stop’ as we approach the end of a road.
When Betsy is at school, Rodney stays at home where at least one of the family is usually in so he has company and goes for walks.
“He’s brought us closer together as a family, we all love him to be around so he’s never short of a fuss,” said Miles, who works for an academy trust as a finance manager.
Miles admits that he and his wife Laura had never been ‘dog people’, but after Laura stumbled across Support Dogs during an internet search, and following further research into positive outcomes for other families, they were in no doubt about taking the “massive leap of faith”.
They made a Support Dog application in the hope of being accepted and eventually matched with a “life-changing canine”.
“Fast forward three years and we were overjoyed to have been matched with Rodney, our super dog!”, said Miles.
Praising the incredible work of the charity, he said: “It’s amazing, it really is.
“We were so lucky to get Rodney as we were on a waiting list for nearly four years and in that time, they reduced the age range eligibility due to a backlog arising from Covid.
“Everyone I’ve met at Support Dogs has been great, they do a fantastic job and the support we have had from my instructor Rebecca has been superb.
“It’s like we’ve never been without Rodney.”
To find out more about our charity’s autism programme and how to apply, please visit www.supportdogs.org.uk/autism