Mike and Erin Doan of Listowel, Ontario, started inquiring about adopting a dog this week after their nine-year-old son, Henry, let them know he wanted one.
Henry is non-verbal and only recently started speaking using special software installed on an iPad.
“He said, ‘I want a dog now,'” Erin said. “It makes us very happy because we’ve always been dog lovers, and we waited a bit until we were sure Henry was ready.
“Now we know he is.”
But, she says, the response was disheartening when the family asked about a puppy posted online by Kismutt Rescue outside of St. Marys, Ont.
Erin said she wanted to be candid, so when she asked for a meeting with the animal rescue group, she told them her son had autism.
“I received an email later, simply saying, ‘Sorry, I hope you understand, but I don’t think, given your son’s autism, this would be a good choice.'”
When Erin asked for clarification, she was told that the organization does not adopt dogs from families with autism.
“There’s so much misinformation out there these days, and these autistic kids and adults are great people,” she said.
“Of course, some have more behavioral problems than others, but to put in place a general policy without even meeting the child and the family, it is really disheartening.
Just because a child had a seizure or outburst doesn’t mean all autistic children have outbursts with their pets.– Billie Wessel, mother of a two-year-old girl with autism.
“Most parents would say my child would never hurt a fly,” Erin said. “Corn [Henry] has so much love to give, and he’s just an empathetic little boy.”
Although Kismutt Rescue did not respond to multiple inquiries from CBC News, the organization wrote a lengthy Facebook post about its policy prohibiting families with an autistic child from adopting a dog.
“One of the hardest parts of rescue is the emotional side of it,” the post read. “Making tough decisions, learning from mistakes, and witnessing serious animal injuries, illnesses, and deaths.”
Read the Kismutt Rescue message:
The post goes on to detail two separate occasions involving an autistic child who injured a dog after being adopted from Kismutt Rescue. In one case, a child bit a dog. In the other, a child hit a dog with a fan.
“After the second incident with the second dog, I have established a policy that NO dogs will be adopted into homes with autistic children,” the post read.
Billie Wessel from London, Ont., first read the message from the relief group in a Facebook support group for parents with children with autism.
“It’s honestly disgusting to read this because autism is a spectrum,” Wessel said.
“Just because a child had a seizure or an outburst doesn’t mean all autistic kids have outbursts with their pets,” said Wessel, who has both a two-year-old daughter with autism and a pug named Snickers.
Wessel is also a developmental services worker at Participation House Support Services in London and works with adults with autism.
“I don’t think there should ever be a case where a child is discriminated against,” Wessel said. “A normally functioning ‘normal’ child might also have problems with aggression with a dog, in the same way that an autistic child might have a seizure.”
It’s up to the parents of all children to assess what their child can handle, she said.
As for the Doans family’s quest for a family dog, it is progressing. Another local dog shelter has contacted the family and hopes to work with them to find the perfect match.
“There’s still a bit of humanity there,” Erin said.