Couple Barred from Adopting Dog After Rescue Owner Learns Their Son Has Autism

When Erin and Mike Doan, from Listowel, Ontario, decided to adopt a dog, they thought they were going about the process as responsibly as they could. They had wanted a dog for a long time but had waited patiently to make sure their son, Henry, who has autism, was ready to have a pet in the house.

Henry, who is nine years old and nonverbal, has a special software on his iPad that enables him to communicate his needs and wants. Recently, he’s started to use the device to express his desire to have a pet for companionship.

“He said, ‘Want a dog now,'” says Erin. “It makes us very happy because we’ve always been dog people, and we were holding off for a bit until we were sure that Henry was ready. Now we know he is.”

Photo: Adobe Stock/Julia Beatty

When the couple inquired about getting a dog from Kismutt Rescue, Erin was very up-front about Henry’s condition. She wanted to make sure the family got a dog that was a good match for Henry, and she was expecting her comment to be met with understanding. She was disheartened to get a message back bluntly stating that the rescue facility would not allow the family to adopt a dog, specifically because of Henry’s autism.

“I got an email back later, just basically saying, ‘Sorry, I hope you understand, but I don’t think, based on your son’s autism, that it would be a good fit.'”

Photo: Pixabay/pixexid

Erin then asked for clarification of the message, she was met with another roadblock. The rescue plain and simply didn’t allow any families with a member on the autism spectrum to adopt a pet. In fact, it later came out that no one with any kind of disability is allowed to adopt a dog from Kismutt.

Of course, it’s true that some people with autism, especially kids, may not do well around dogs or understand how to treat a dog properly. However, the same can be said for children in general. It’s important to assess each case individually and see how the person in question interacts with the animal rather than deciding out of the gate that he or she cannot have a pet in the home.

“In this day and age, there’s so much disinformation, and these kiddos and adults with autism, they’re wonderful people,” says Erin. “For sure, there are some that have more behavioural issues than others, but to put a blanket policy in place without even meeting the kiddo and the family — it’s just really disheartening. [Henry] has so much love to give, and he’s just an empathetic little boy.”

Erin decided to go public with her son’s story in the hopes of raising awareness for the wide range of talents and traits of people on the spectrum and to encourage other rescues and organizations to adopt more autism-friendly policies.

Kismutt Rescue made a Facebook post in response to the story, saying that it has a policy against adopting any dog out to a home with an autistic child. Period.

The owner of the rescue group wrote a lengthy post about two separate times she’d agreed to allow a family with an autistic child to adopt a dog. Both times, she says, the dogs came back with injuries from having been bitten or beaten by the children, and in her heartbroken, state, she vowed never again to allow another one of her beloved rescue dogs to go to a family with an autistic child.

Photo: Pixabay/VisionPics

“You can imagine my devastation. I was sick about it. To this day, I relive it in my mind. After the second incident with the second dog, I made a policy that NO dog will be adopted into homes with Autistic children,” she writes.

The post goes on to explain that one of the volunteers at the rescue works as a “highly respected” professional with autistic kids and says 99 percent of them have violent and aggressive outbursts.

“Some may critize [sic] my policy, but I just will not take a chance with another dog,” she continues. “Erin Doan, my rescue dogs are deserving of SAFE, loving forever homes. That’s my job. If you don’t like it, too bad. Just because a parent of an Autistic child thinks their child is perfect…..don’t ALL Mom’s think their children are perfect?”

It’s understandable that animal rescuers and animal advocates want to make sure all animals in their care go to safe and loving homes. However, outright denying a person the chance to adopt a pet based solely on a condition like autism seems absurd to the Doan family, especially without ever even meeting or interacting with the person.

Happily, another rescue organization has reached out to the Doans and is willing to work with them on finding a dog who will have the right temperament and other characteristics to be a good fit for the family.

“There’s some humanity out there again,” says Erin.

There are so many dogs and other animals out there in need of loving forever homes and caring families. We hope more rescues and shelters will consider families with a member on the autism spectrum on a more individual basis than this so as to keep animals safe but also get as many of them as possible into good homes.

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