A Cork-based charity that provides service dogs to children with disabilities, predominantly autism, has spoken about the challenges Covid-19 has presented and has said they were "humbled" by a recent offer of help.
My Canine Companion was set up in Blarney in 2011 by husband-and-wife team Cliona O’Rourke and Niall Ruddy.
The organisation is now headquartered in Blackpool and provides a nationwide service including the provision of over 60% of Ireland's autism service/assistance dogs.
The charity relies heavily on fundraising opportunities, which due to the pandemic, have been decimated.
"We’ve been hugely affected with Covid, like all charities really, because traditionally fundraising would involve things like bag packing and people coming together.
"We depend hugely on the public for funding," Ms O’Rourke told.
My Canine Companion does not charge families for the provision of its service dog programmes.
However, the cost to the charity of providing their fully qualified service dogs over a two-year programme and continuing lifetime support is €10,000.
Ahead of World Autism Awareness Day today, the charity was approached by Joan Denise Moriarty School of Dance who suggested doing a fundraising video in aid of My Canine Companion.
"We were so delighted when Joan Denise Moriarty School of Dance reached out.
"I had seen some of the videos they had put out and they’re amazing.
"For me personally, when someone comes along that has no affiliation to us and no reason to do something for us other than doing it out of the goodness of their heart, it just means the world," Ms O'Rourke said.
"We're very humbled by it."
Students from the city centre based dance school feature in the video as well as people who have availed of My Canine Companion's services.
One such person is eight-year-old Luke O'Flynn from Lehenaghmore who has his service dog Yeska for around three years now.
"When I first got her [Yeska] Luke was a bit younger and he was a flight risk so to have her attached to him was absolutely amazing," his mum Suzanne told.
"She’s an amazing dog – she’s so tuned in with him.
"Now that he’s getting a bit older he doesn’t like being attached to her now but he’ll walk alongside her and he’ll hold the handle on her jacket.
"You can see when he’s getting anxious, he’ll rub the top of her head.
"I wouldn’t be without her in a million years.
Yeska is always there to keep a vigilant eye on Luke and her presence has particularly helped during the lockdowns, Ms O'Flynn said.
"We were out today at the park, for example, and the minute Luke leaves Yeska's sight, she starts barking to alert me.
"I have to reassure her then that he’s ok, that he’s safe.
"That just goes to show how much of a good team they are.
"They’re two peas in a pod – in the house if he goes upstairs, she goes upstairs, if he’s downstairs, she’s downstairs.
"If you look for Luke, you’ll find her, if you look for her, you’ll find him.
"Definitely, the lockdown has affected Luke and so many other kids on the spectrum but Yeska has helped him so much," she said.
At My Canine Companion, the charity has an innovative approach to their puppy programme whereby dogs are placed with their future end user families when they are just puppies.
The child's parents will socialise and carry out basic training with the puppy under the supervision of their My Canine Companion instructor and with the encouragement and support of mentor families who have completed the programme.
They attend monthly classes on handling and obedience with a My Canine Companion instructor.
"The fact that the dogs are placed with the family when they are young makes the bonding process easier because the child and the dog grow together," Linda Collins, an autism service dog instructor who has been with My Canine Companion since 2012, explained.
"Some children with autism would get very anxious in supermarkets, for example, with the bright lights and the noise.
"The dog helps to keep the child calm.
"The dogs are trained to stop at curbs as well, so if the child is attached to the dog and the child bolts, the dog won’t go onto the road – it’s an anchor and an extra level of safety," Ms Collins explained.
My Canine Companion also trains therapy dogs.
"They would go into schools, or hospitals or nursing homes.
"So, for example, we might bring a dog into a hospital if there was a child nervous about getting bloods taken.
"We were doing all that before Covid and we’ll resume that when restrictions ease," Ms Collins said.
For details on how to donate to the fundraiser Joan Denise Moriarty School of Dance is running for My Canine Companion, visit their Facebook page.