Jack and Aidan taking Flicka for a walk | Picture: Adrian Butler
DOGS have long been considered man’s best friend. Their steadfast companionship and unwavering loyalty has seen our fluffy four-legged pals welcomed into our homes for thousands of years.
For many people, canines have become more than just pets or friends, they have become family. And in no family is this more evident than the Tracys of Woodlawn Park in Ballysimon.
The Tracys are a family of five. April and her husband Shane are raising two young sons, seven-year-old Jack and four-year-old Aiden. Raising two young boys is a difficult task for most parents, but the Tracy’s story is different in that both Jack and Aiden were diagnosed with Autism at a young age.
This is where the fifth member of the family comes into the fold. Flicka, an assistance dog, was brought into the families life to assist Jack with his everyday routine. A move which April says has radically transformed the families life.
“Jack was diagnosed just after he turned three years old. He had all the typical traits of autism although I never actually believed he would be diagnosed. I always put it down to him being a first child, he had nobody else to play with, so he wasn't used to socialising. Taking him out was a nightmare. If somebody would try speak to him or touch him, he'd fall to the floor with a meltdown. I'd have to be at playschool 20 minutes before finishing time just to make sure I was first in line to collect him. Life was chaos,” said April.
“Aiden was diagnosed as soon as he turned 18 months. He is different to Jack, a champion runner and climber; he could be happily holding your hand one minute and bolt the next with no understanding of danger or never answer to his name,” she added.
As the boys got older, April knew it was the right move to apply for an assistance dog.
“I knew Jack needed a bond with someone other than me to help him live as independently as possible. The older he got the more reliant on me he was becoming and the more his anxiety and autism was living his life for him,” said April.
Then, through Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind , the family were blessed with Flicka.
“The difference Flicka has made to our lives is huge. Each one of us gets something from her and not only is she Jack's Assistance Dog, she is our family pet. She brought normality to our house when life was crazy. She kept Aiden safe when we couldn't. She brought Jack out of his shell and helped him engage with people, something I thought he would never do,” said April.
“She brought his anxiety levels down to allow us to go on family outings we previously couldn't have. She let me take a back seat and show Jack it's ok to have trust in someone other than me. She's Jack's comfort at home and I can honestly say she is his best friend. She puts Jack to sleep when he's anxious and having a meltdown at night and will lie with him until he's asleep,” April added.
Flicka has had such an impact on the family life in the two years she has been with them, that on one occasion, she can be credited with saving Jack’s life.
“We were in Kilkee with the boys. Jack had this bouncy ball he was enthralled with. He was playing with the ball and it got away from him and went out on the road. Jack went to chase it and would have ran right into the path of an oncoming car, if it wasn’t for Flicka. She was so quick she stopped him before he could run out,” said April.
April, who before getting to know Flicka had been afraid of dogs, says that Flicka that has become more than just a service dog for the family.
“She is our pet, she is Jack’s best friend and she is part of our family. I never would have dreamed she would have had such an impact on the family,” said April.
Guide Dog Day is Friday May 10, in honour of dogs such as Flicka and the work they do.
Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind is a national charity dedicated to helping people living with sight loss or autism improve their mobility and independence. Guide Dog Day will focus on the organisation's clients, their families and volunteers sharing their stories about the difference Guide and Assistance Dogs have had in their lives and community.
To get involved, people can buy a pin at any of their collections across the country. People can donate online or text WOOF to 50300 to donate €4 to Irish Guide Dogs. Irish Guide Dogs will receive a minimum of €3.60. People are also invited to volunteer and help out with the charity.