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Kanga’s journey: From the shelter to service

Chaz Caudill (L), who deals with autism, Kanga and Jim Wright pose together. Kanga is being trained to be Caudill’s service dog.

Angela Workman

Chaz Caudill, a 7-year-old Smithville resident, and Kanga, his pit bull, have a lot in common. Both have been outcasts, both have been labeled and both are overcoming stigmas.

Most importantly, however, both are in search of companionship and unconditional love. Chaz has diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and Sensory Processing Disorder.

Autism’s hold is tight and pervasive, too. It leaves children locked in a different world—one that is often lonely and confusing. Chaz struggles to pick up on social cues, interact with others and to understand directions and language. His senses are hypersensitive and he is easily overstimulated.

Julie Caudill is Chaz’s mother, and she spends much of her day redirecting and guiding her son through basic activities and routines. Picture cards portraying his next steps fill the home. This exhausting work left Caudill in search of another route.

After making phone calls regarding service dogs, Caudill quickly realized that the expense, which ranged from $14,000 to $20,000, would be overwhelming. About two weeks ago, her friend recommended she speak with Jim Wright, a trainer at Brigadoon’s Canine University of Wooster.

Caudill called Wright to discuss her interest in obtaining a service dog. Wright had been fostering Kanga for about six months at the time, as she was a rescue with the Wayne County Humane Society. After speaking with Caudill, Wright had a good feeling about her compatibility with Chaz. He agreed to train Kanga to be Chaz’s service dog.

In approximately six months, Kanga will be fastened to Chaz, courtesy of the vest created by petjoy of Hartville. Kanga will keep him in touch with reality, help him navigate difficult social situations and offer the kind of friendship that is pure and nonjudgmental. Kanga will be trained to find Chaz should he ever go missing, calm his anxiety and prevent him from doing anything dangerous.

“We’ve got to anticipate, where is Chaz going to be going? Not what he’s doing today, but what will he be doing in six years, 10 years?” said Wright. “That’s the trick to the training, is that we have to see into the future.”

Wright said Kanga is unusually calm for being only 11 months old. Her temperament is what persuaded Wright to train her as Chaz’s service dog. Before then, he kept wondering what her purpose was going to be in this life.

“And now she’s going to be a service dog. She goes from a shelter with no future to seeing the world,” Wright said. “She’s going to be a great dog for Chaz. It was meant to be, honestly.”

According to Christina Pritt, canine specialist at the Wayne County Humane Society, Kanga was rescued August 4, 2011. She arrived with double entropy, a condition that results in ulcers or irritation of the eyes. Kanga also struggled in the cages, making it more difficult to get her adopted.

“We really loved her and so we went ahead and got her the surgery and everything. She was doing fabulous and nobody wanted to adopt her because she was a pit bull,” said Pritt.

The pup’s calming effect on Chaz is undeniable. He is already bonding to her, and she hasn’t even moved into their home yet. Despite the myths that pit bulls are vicious and aggressive, Caudill sees only a sweet dog who will serve as her son’s lifeline.

According to the website, www.autismassistancedog.com, service dogs can also improve social interaction for children with autism. They can help redirect repetitive behavior, improve independence, increase vocabulary and improve quality of sleep.

Kanga will provide all of this and more to her lifelong friend. While most dogs serve similar purposes, offering camaraderie and enjoyment, Kanga’s journey will be even more profound. She will be helping a child escape a world of isolation and shelter. And Chaz will be doing the same thing for her.

Published: June 21, 2012
New Article ID: 2012706219975