Cash boost for assistance dogs support project

Rebecca Barker with Honey the 'assistance dog'
Rebecca Barker with Honey the 'assistance dog'

A project providing ‘assistance dogs’ to help children with autism and physical disabilities across Northern Ireland has been given a £700,000 lottery cash boost.

The five-year initiative will include training, placing and supporting 75 of the dogs with families who have a child aged 11 and under, and is one of five projects awarded funding totalling almost £3.5million.

The group is working with Disability Action, Autism NI and Autism Advisory and Intervention Service to support the families involved.

Assistance dogs encourage independence and confidence, carrying out everyday tasks including picking up items and opening and closing doors. They also guide and anchor children with autism who may be at risk of ‘bolting’ on busy streets.

Eight-year-old Rebecca Barker from Cullybackey, Co Antrim has had her life transformed by a dog, called Honey, from Assistance Dogs NI. When Rebecca was diagnosed with Asperger’s – a form of autism – her parents didn’t know where to turn.

Rebecca’s condition means that she has a number of sensory issues and can find many everyday situations overwhelming.

“Rebecca is constantly trying to make sense of a world where nothing seems to make sense and so she becomes extremely anxious,” her mum Michelle Barker said.

The family then contacted Assistance Dogs NI.

“Rebecca calls Honey her fluffy sister. There is an incredible bond between them. Everywhere Rebecca goes, Honey goes,” Mrs Barker added.