By Michael Benavides
UPPER FREEHOLD – William IV, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, has had a positive emotional impact on a 9-year-old child who has autism.
Nicholas Cottrell, 9, of Upper Freehold Township, recently received William from Canine Companions for Independence, a national nonprofit organization that provides trained assistance dogs to children and adults who have a disability.
One of William’s most important jobs is to provide constant companionship for Nicholas. The pair completed a training course that involved lectures, exams, practice and public outings before William came to live with the youngster.
Nicholas’s mother, Barbara, said she was happy to welcome William to her home and added, “William is a very special dog and we hope to have many wonderful years with him.”
She said Nicholas needed a trained assistance dog because he has autism, oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit disorder, and sensory and behavioral issues.
“With all of these diagnoses, it makes it difficult for Nicholas to function in a normal society,” Cottrell said. “Life is not easy for Nick. He has very few friends. When he went to public school his behavior was horrible. … He did not fit in with his peers. He could not compete with them physically and mentally.
“He was very sad and constantly said he wanted to die. Halfway through second grade we were able to get him transferred to a different school and at that point I started looking into getting a service dog for him.
Cottrell said William has had a positive impact on her son’s self-esteem.
“When Nick and William walk into school, or into the local pizza place, everyone says how amazing and beautiful William is. People now pay attention to Nick and say hello. His peers all want to come over and say hello to William.
“This helps my son so much with his self-confidence and esteem. William sleeps with Nick and this helps Nick to sleep by himself, and sleep through the night. They brush their teeth together,” Cottrell said.
“Nick’s personality has changed dramatically. His behaviors have calmed down. He has not tried to injure himself once since having William. William senses when Nick is upset and he nuzzles with him to make him feel better.
“We are so grateful to Canine Companions for Independence because they have not only changed Nick’s life, but the rest of the family’s life as well,” she said.
Canine Companions for Independence was established in 1975 and provides assistance dogs to individuals who have a disability. There is no charge for the dog, its training and ongoing follow-up services, according to a press release from the organization.