An assistance dogs programme specifically for children with autism reached its full capacity within one hour of Irish Guide Dogs reopening the service to new applicants for the first time since 2013.

After closing the programme to new applicants three years ago due to a high level of demand, Irish Guide Dogs reopened the service to more families this week.

With all positions on the programme filled within such a short space of time, the charity says it does not have the money to expand the service further to meet the demand that is out there.

“The level of demand experienced highlights now more than ever the importance of securing more state funding for the autism community to allow us and other service providers to increase the level of services to families of children with autism,” said Irish Guide Dogs manager David McCarthy, adding that the charity is totally reliant on donations from the public to run its assistance dogs programme.

Assistance dogs are trained specifically to work with children with autism by helping to control and improve behaviour.

While acting as a safety aid to parents, assistance dogs also help promote calm and enhance social skills of children with autism.

Launched in 2005, the Irish Guide Dogs assistance programme was the first of its kind in Europe.

All the group’s services are free. However, it does not have the financial resources to grow the programme to meet the over-demand for the service, it said.

Irish Guide Dogs receives 85% of its income from fundraising initiatives and voluntary donations, with the rest provided by the State. No statutory funding is issued to the assistance dog programme.

It costs €38,000 to train one pup to become a working guide or assistance dog, according to the organisation.

Some 30 to 40 canines are matched with families through Irish Guide Dogs each year.

Currently, 286 families avail of an assistance dog through the charity’s service.


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