Dog Retires After a Decade of Changing the Life of a Kid as His Autism Guide Dog

Autism assistance dogs are a blessing to kids who can’t enjoy their childhood due to their condition. Winter the Labrador was the key for James King to have a childhood he would cherish as an adult. According to Chantel King, James’s mother, it was rare for their family to engage in outings because James tends to run around — which makes Chantel worried for his safety. Thankfully, Winter entered their lives and kept James safe whenever they were outside.

“So, James immediately went to bolt off, like normal, and Winter anchored like he was supposed to, and James’s face planted on the ground,” Chantel King shared in an interview. Not the best start, but James wasn’t injured or killed like he might have been if he’d run into the road.

Before Winter joined their family, Chantel and her husband planned to use a special needs stroller. However, Chantel was introduced to something special — someone that could change James’s life. The Guide Dogs SA program was offering autism assistance dogs at that time, but it was only available in Adelaide and hadn’t reached Mount Gambier. Chantel was determined to acquire a guide dog, so she consistently contacted the organization. Luckily, she was able to change their minds with her persistence.

Since then, the family has been thankful for Winter’s existence in their lives. Winter made things possible for the family, like being complete outings and helping James learn independence. “I can actually go out and explore the world without my parents having to fear about me running away or running into traffic, because the dog will be tethered to me and then will just lay down and anchor,” James said.

The black Labrador did not just become the boy’s guide but also his best friend. James was able to create fun memories with his family — he could safely go to the malls, visit zoos, and go out of town.

After a decade of being an assistance dog, Winter’s service has ended. But the good news is that the King family can keep him as their beloved pet after his retirement. Thankfully, they met the criteria set by Guide Dogs SA and adopted Winter for free. At first, Chantel was planning to acquire another dog, but she thought getting one from Guide Dogs SA was not possible. The family was also thinking of fundraising to get and train a dog for autism assistance.

“I know it costs about the same when you go privately. But they do a fantastic job, so you do get what you pay for. I do think it should be more eligible for families that have children on the spectrum, though,” says Chantel. Having an assistance dog is evidently beneficial, and James is living proof of that. His bond with Winter has been built well for decades — a constant support until old age. Winter deserves to spend his retirement years with the family that wholeheartedly appreciated his service for the last ten years.

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