Service dogs make difference to many

Published 07/17 2014 06:32PM

Updated 07/24 2014 01:12PM

When Elijah was younger his parents noticed he was a bit different than other kids his age. So, after taking him to see multiple doctors they came up with his diagnosis, he has Aspergers.

In simple terms, his brain works a little different than the average person.

"Your brain is like a book. We're born with a full book and they may miss a sentence on social skills or a chapter or a paragraph and they have to learn to compensate from that by watching other people,” said Tessa Mendez, Elijah’s mom.

Elijah has what he calls emotional meltdowns, certain things trigger him and his reaction either one of two ways. He has tantrums or he shuts down and doesn't want to talk.

Children with Aspergers typically have difficulties socializing with other kids, so Elijah didn't play much.

His parents couldn't find the right treatment to make him happy, but one day a family member suggested a different approach.

"We’re always trying what’s the newest next thing to help our child - is it therapy, is it more going to the psychiatrist more, is it reading more about it, is it looking online more. So we are always looking for the next thing to help your children and she came up with the idea of a service dog,” said Chris Mendez.

After spending some time looking into it they found a program that did more than train service dogs. The program K-9 to Kids rescues dogs from the animal shelters and then the dogs are trained at the women’s prison in Quincy, Florida.

Elijah would be the first child with Aspergers in Alabama to have a service dog.

His parents didn’t know what to expect, but after Elijah spent just one day with his new dog, Emma, the results were unimaginable.

"He was walking through the house one day and he turned back and said ‘hey dad I love you and I was just like who are you and you know it was my son and he had come out of his shell,” said Chris.

“He’s a brand new kid a year later we're still learning an entire new child. It’s amazing you know how much he’s changed and how nice it is to see him go play with kids,” said Tessa.

Even Elijah noticed a difference.

"She senses when I’m getting stressed and everything. You know she comes up you know and lays her head on my legs and i rub her and it just goes away,” said Elijah.

The future for Elijah is up to him - whether he wants to continue having service dogs or not but for now he’s content.

"We’re taking it very slowly. One day at a time one school year at a time we'll just see what happens,” said Chris. “He can end up in a mansion with a Lamborghini or he can end up with us at the house and we'll love him just the same.”

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