Group gives autism patients new ‘leash’ on life

RANCHO SANTA FE — More than 125 people gathered at the Del Mar Country Club on July 8 to help raise money for Leash-on-Life, a nonprofit organization that trains service dogs for placement with children with autism.
Guest speaker Temple Grandin, an author and a Colorado State University professor who holds a doctorate in animal science, discussed the emotional needs of animals and her life with autism. Before speaking, Grandin autographed copies of her books, “Animals Make Us Human” and “Animals in Translation.”
Rebecca Cook also shared the story of her life as the mother of an autistic child. Her daughter, Jolena Gonzalez, was diagnosed with autism when she was 3 years old. Cook said she was continuously told there wasn’t much that could be done to make her life easier.
That was until December 2007, when Jolena became the first recipient of a Leash-on-Life autism service dog — a black Labrador retriever named Little Miss Muffet. Since then, Jolena has been better able to perform simple day-to-day activities such as going to the mall or taking a walk around the neighborhood with her mother. Muffet’s presence has also helped reduce Jolena’s meltdowns — once common throughout the day — and calm her when they do occur.
Jolena, who is now 6, was on hand with 5-year-old Muffet.
The only group of its kind to provide such a service in San Diego, Leash-on-Life is a branch of Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs Inc., a Solana Beach-based organization that trains and places service dogs for mobility assistance, seizure response and other needs.
The two-year training program is about $15,000 per dog. All trainers volunteer their time and there is no cost for clients who receive the dogs, Karen Shultz of Tender Loving Canines said.
Visit www.tenderlovingcanines.org to donate or for more information.

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