Spot – Hope of Netiv HaAyit (Int.Isr.Ch. Netiv HaAyit Silver Spirit x Int.Isr.Ch. King’s Valley After All)
Breeder: Myrna Shiboleth
Born: December 15, 2009
Smooth female, blue merle
Some puppies are born to change people’s lives.
Spot is one of these. Born on Dec. 14, 2008, she was the only female in a litter of smooth collies that was bred with the intention of producing service dogs. The little blue merle girl from a very young age showed the qualities that would be necessary for her to fulfill the task of service dog to an autistic young man. She was alert, very people oriented, curious, fearless, determined, with a strong play drive, and a desire to learn. Her official name was Hope of Netiv HaAyit – her purpose was to bring hope of an improved quality of life to Eran.
Eran was a 19 year old youth who is severely autistic. His ability to communicate verbally was very limited and he was subject to behavior that could be inappropriate to his surroundings, including fits of anger and shouting, wandering off, and entering other’s property. He had problems of lack of confidence, restlessness, and fearfulness, which required almost constant attention from the people around him, day and night. His family has been devoted to giving him the opportunity to develop to the maximum of his abilities and to function as much as possible in the normal world. He has attended school and is well educated, he is able to work as a part of his mother’s internet business, being highly skillful on the computer, and is well oriented in his familiar surroundings, able to walk around independently, enter shops and travel on his familiar bus route. Everyone in his familiar environment knows him and is able to assist him if he runs into any problems.
But as a young adult, Eran and his parents wanted him to have a more independent life. When his parents heard about the work being done with service dogs for the autistic at the Israel Center for Service and Therapy Dogs, they felt that this might be the answer to providing Eran with physical and emotional support and a more independent life.
The family had to wait. There were no puppies available for training at the time that they expressed interest. Dogs for this type of work have to have a very special temperament, and are the result of a breeding program that has been set up for this purpose and refined for a number of years to produce a high percentage of puppies with the characteristics necessary. The dogs used are smooth collies, which have proven themselves as outstanding service dogs in a number of tasks, being extremely devoted to their partners, highly intelligent and easy to train, and with the ability to take initiative and function for the benefit of their partner, even when he is not able to give the command.
Hope, who was renamed Spot, was initially placed in a foster home, so that she would have the proper experience of living in a normal home and being socialized to everything that was a part of this. Her training for her future task was also started from the age of about three months and was carried out by Yariv Ben Yosef of the Israel Center for Service and Therapy Dogs. She had to learn to follow commands, to be able to lead her handler home if necessary, and to react to various behaviors that were typical of autism and in particular that were part of Eran’s behavior.
Autism affects the communication skills of the affected person, making it difficult or impossible for him to speak, communicate feelings, and show affection or in some types to allow themselves to be touched or cuddled. It also results in behaviors that are a result of the frustration and difficulty of the affected person in responding appropriately and effectively to his surroundings and can result in displays of anger, fear, or various inappropriate behaviors.
Spot learned all the necessary commands and responses, and when she was ten months old, in October 2009, Eran and his family arrived in Israel, so that Eran and Spot could bond and learn to work together before her trip to Australia. The family had no previous experience with dogs, and were uncertain about how the bonding between Eran and Spot would go, and whether a dog could really make a difference in their lives.
From the beginning, Spot and Eran bonded completely. Spot seemed to understand that Eran was the one who needed her help, and Eran very quickly found in Spot a source of confidence. He began sleeping through the nights, something he had never done before, with Spot in or beside his bed. He became comfortable going out to walk with her and letting her lead him back home if he became confused. Spot was able to stop Eran from behaving inappropriately in public, by pulling at his pants leg, nudging him, or doing something else that would distract him and prevent him from shouting or other undesirable actions.
Spot, Eran, and his family returned to Australia in January 2010. Spot traveled in the cabin with Eran, behaving like a seasoned traveler even though this was her first flight. Her adjustment to her new home and life style was very rapid and successful, and her bond with Eran and strong motivation to work with him and assist him have developed more and more. Her level of work is amazing. Eran’s parents say the changes they have seen in their son’s life in the last few years, since he has had Spot, have been unbelievable. Much of his self harming behavior stopped immediately, and not only does he no longer run away from home, he can now leave the house on his own, and can travel on public transportation with Spot. This was something he couldn’t do before, as his inability to communicate left him vulnerable. Spot gives him confidence and protects him, and his behavior is calmer and less likely to attract attention or annoy people. When I saw Eran this summer (2013) on a visit to Israel with his mother, after having Spot for three years, the differences in his behavior were very noticeable. He was calm, his communication skills and verbal language had improved greatly, his attention to people around him was much more focused, and his self confidence was apparent.
The community in Australia has been very impressed, and this may open the door for more use of dogs to assist autistic children. Spot has become quite famous in Australia, has been written about in various newspapers, and been featured on TV shows. Her work has been one of the major factors influencing a new law there allowing service dogs on public transportation.