Oklahoma City Child With Special Needs Gets New Service Dog
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma - A special little boy in Oklahoma City got his Christmas wish for a service dog granted this month.
At the time, the family noticed how calm Cruz was around the family dog, Molly. But Molly was getting older and had recently been diagnosed with cancer. She had to be put down in November.
Fortunately, the family got their service dog just a few weeks later, all thanks to the generous donations of several Oklahomans.
The adorable ball of brown and white fluff is Cruz Smith's new best friend. He named him Chewie after one of his favorite Star Wars characters. And his family says they have already noticed a big difference in how Cruz relates to the world because of him.
“He is real, real careful. He always wants to feed the dog and take care of it and take it out,” said Will Smith, Cruz’s dad. “He’ll even lay on the dog bed with him.”
Cruz was adopted by the Smith family when he was just a baby. He was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome at birth and has always had impulse control and other issues as a result. But the Smith family discovered a group called Agvocates for Exceptional Individuals. The group helps train service animals for special needs kids just like Cruz.
“And it doesn't matter if its Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Autism or Down Syndrome, we have kids with all those diagnoses,” said Josh Hargis, the Program Director with Agvocates for Exceptional Individuals. “And we develop plans for them - and use an animal just as a high intrinsic motivation that the child has - and use that to accomplish different goals and objectives to help them navigate the social world.”
Cruz's mother has already noticed a big difference in his school work since Chewie became part of his life.
“He wouldn't sit still before,” said Anne Smith, Cruz’s mom. “So when we put the dog next to him to do the testing, he sat and did the whole test! And his teacher says he scored higher than he ever has before.”
Hargis says there’s a simple scientific reason for that.
“The brain releases serotonin, and that has a calming effect,” said Hargis. “And so Cruz will sit there and get his work done - and it’s something as simple as putting the dog right there in his lap.”
It will take two years of training both Chewie and Cruz through the help of the organization. That is why the cost for service animals like Chewie is so high. But the families who are helped say it is worth it. And none of this would have been possible for the Smith family had it not been for the generous donations from dozens of Oklahomans. Not just from friends and family - but even complete strangers!
“It just blew us away, we couldn't believe it,” said Will Smith.
The Yukon-based non-profit organization also helps children with special needs in another way – by pairing them up with a farm animal, having them nurture and take care of it and then show it at some of the local livestock exhibitions.
The Smith family is still collecting money on their GoFundMe page and say any money over the amount needed for their dog’s training will go to help another child in need of a service dog.