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Specially trained dog brings calm to life of boy with autism

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Duncan is the calm within a sometimes-chaotic life for 7-year-old Jonathan Prenevost, a boy with autism who is now flourishing after his parents brought home the specially trained dog, his family told FOX 9.

Jonathan got Duncan, a 2-year-old Labrador mix, about two months ago from the New Hope-based organization Can Do Canines, which trains various types of service dogs, FOX 9 says.

Jonathan, like many others, waited years to get the dog – Can Do Canines says families wait two to three years for autism assist dogs because they're in such high demand. Currently, there are 180 people on the waiting list for a Can Do Canine, but the organization will only be able to train 45 this year, WCCO says.

“They help the child be more comfortable around people. Instead of looking at a child that seems unusual at first glance, they see a child with a beautiful dog and ask ‘What’s your dog’s name?’ That starts the conversation and changes everything," Alan Peters, executive director of Can Do Canines, told WCCO.

When Jonathan was 3 years old he was officially diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, which is a general term for a group of complex disorders of brain development characterized in varying degrees that can include difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors, according to the Autism Speaks website.

Jonathan has a flair for building with his LEGOs – his mom told FOX 9 he does LEGO kits designed for 14 year olds by himself.

"We can see his intelligence," Jonathan's mother, Pia Prenevost, told FOX 9. "It's high, but we know that he's got some real significant challenges."

Jonathan has made progress with medication and therapy, but his family said they have noticed a bigger difference since bringing Duncan home. Already, he's taken on new responsibilities, like feeding the dog, FOX 9 says.

"Duncan isn't going to judge," Pia Prenevost told FOX 9. "Duncan is just going to lick him in the face, and be excited to see him and not have super high expectations."

Since 2007, Can Do Canines has been specially training autism assist dogs like Duncan to help provide security and peace of mind to families with children with autism, the organization says.

"I can't tell you how many times I've just barely grabbed [Jonathan] by the collar [of his shirt] before a car came," Dan Prenevost told FOX 9.

Duncan and all autism assist dogs wear a cape that has a handle for Jonathan to hold onto while walking alongside him – the cape is also tethered to Jonathan's belt for safety and to keep him from wandering or running away, according to the organization's website.

Since 1989, Can Do Canines, which also trains dogs for seizure response, mobility assistance, people who are hard of hearing and diabetes assistance, has provided 455 assistance dogs to people with disabilities – all free of charge, KARE 11 reported, but it takes a lot of resources and training to prepare the dogs for their new roles. The Prenevost family is grateful for Duncan and they plan to hold a fundraiser for autism awareness and donate all the proceeds to the organization, FOX 9 says.

The organization is also looking for people to foster at least 28 puppies that will be trained to help people with special needs, according KSTP.

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