A Special Memory—how a phone call changed their lives


About Colin and a dog named Phoenix

Colin’s experience of school was not a happy one. The environment and expectations of school were incomprehensible to him; and his quirky behaviours were often misinterpreted. Kaye, Colin’s prime carer, was told that he was too disruptive in class and had to be removed from his peers almost every day. After several school meetings and thinking long and hard, Kaye decided to Home School Colin herself. Together they worked their way through the curriculum. During this time Kaye also studied externally and gained a qualification as an Education Assistant.

Challenges and a happy change

Hello, my name is Colin and I live with my carers and two sisters in Derby, WA. I was diagnosed with Autism in 2011 when I was four years old. I found mainstream schooling very challenging. I have very supportive carers who made the decision to withdraw me from school and I was Home Schooled for 12 months. I enjoyed Home Schooling because I felt understood. I was in an environment where I felt comfortable and there were far less distractions. Then I was lucky enough to be granted an Assistance Dog and I am pleased to say that I am now back at school and my dog Phoenix comes to school with me and stays in my classroom every day.

The phone call

Kaye tells how, related to her study in the area of Special Needs, she decided to explore the benefits that an Assistance Dog might bring to Colin. It was a lengthy process—months went by and finally the phone call arrived. Out of 300 applications to Assistance Dogs Australia that year, Colin’s was selected by the panel. Based on a strong application and genuine need, Colin was to be the recipient of a Fully Qualified Assistance Dog.

A new direction

That phone call changed our lives. It gave us hope, a sense of calm, focus and a new direction. There were obligatory weekend workshops to attend in Perth involving lots of travel from our remote location. There was intense ‘one on one’ training prior to hand over of this amazing addition to our family unit.

Phoenix—teacher and friend

Colin, a boy with autism, and his therapy dog Phoenix.

Phoenix, a Black Labrador, and I graduated as ‘a team’ at a celebration in Forrest Place, Perth some two years ago. Today as a qualified Education Assistant, I support Colin in the Year 5 classroom at our local Catholic School; and Phoenix, like Colin, attends school every day. Phoenix’s devotion to Colin provides him with a sense of calm. Above all, he is Colin’s best friend who loves him unconditionally. Colin is motoring along at school and in his community. He recently joined the local Scouts Group and attends 1½ hours each week. Colin has made many new friends at his new school and Phoenix is much loved by the other students and is well respected as part of the teaching team. After all, he has taught Colin so much.

For more information about therapy dogs, please visit the Guide Dogs WA website.

Speak now