Service Dog for Autism – A Story About Our Children’s Connections With Their Dogs

Getting a certified service dog for autism is not easily achieved in Israel. There are some companies that train service dogs for autism. However, from our experience, adopting a dog without training could also be beneficial.

In this article we will describe our personal experience with 2 dogs and 4 children. Three of our children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Our eldest (Dolev) and youngest (Dov) also have refractory epilepsy.

Our dogs came before our children, but they filled out a role as therapy dogs as soon as the kids were born.

Service Dog – Adoption for Life

Even before we had children we had dogs. We adopted “Moon” when I had trouble coping with the emotional burden of my job as a nurse.

Every time we had a patient die, I would wake up at night from anxiety. Instead of waking Hagai, I would take the dog for a walk. Although Moon did not undergo special training, she became my personal emotional service dog.

“Popeye” later joined. At first, he was only meant to be fostered for a while, as a favor to our veterinarian. Although this was not the plan, we adopted him too.

Then Dolev was born.

Over the years, the relationship forged between Dolev and the dogs was essential in promoting his communicative abilities.

Using a Service Dog for Autism Treatment

In Israel, the methods of treating autism using service dogs are not very developed. But there are associations that train therapy dogs and/or work with the family in emotional work with dogs.

For example, we spoke with Klavim association. There are all kinds of routes for training the dog for emotional therapy. You will have to invest time and money in the process. In the end, you will get considerable value for the child.

A dog gives the child an emotional and sensory response. It can also provide additional opportunities to work on communication.

The Reiner Family Dogs

Moon and Popeye, our dogs, welcomed each child with love. They saw them as a wonderful source of hugs and snacks.

When the kids started eating solids they dropped a lot of food on the floor.

boy hugging his service dog for autism
Nevo is hugging Moon who is very upset about her new haircut. She is waiting for them to finish with Popeye.

We used to say about Popeye that he was a bit stupid. But we quickly learned that he suited Dolev like a reflection in a mirror.

When Popeye was a year old I became pregnant. Quickly after Dolev was born, we discovered that the master resembled his new owners. Just like our son, he used to walk around the house awake at night.

Popeye managed to break into places. No barriers could stop him. (Hagai always said he was sure this dog had thumbs). And like Dolev, the outside world was not entirely to his taste. He did not understand how to interact with other dogs.

But he and Dolev had an understanding towards each other.

In stark contrast to Moon who went after our babies. She made sure to announce every full diaper and licked the dirt off their little faces. But Popeye was indifferent to those who didn’t offer him food. At a young age, our son learned to share his crackers with the dog. A bite for him and a bite for the tail-wagger.

a toddler and two dogs in an elevator
- our service dog
Nevo as a toddler in the elevator with Moon and Popye – insisting on holding both of our giant dogs’ leashes

Epilepsy in Dogs and Humans

Dolev and Popeye would agree on many things. Things such as annoying noise, uncomfortable clothing, and haircuts.

Shortly after Dolev was diagnosed with epilepsy, Popeye also developed the condition. Both of them had severe and stormy seizures and medication did not help either

Each passing day left us tired from coping. Finally, in 2018 the situation was already unbearable. When Dolev just turned five, one of the neurologists informed us that the child’s chances of survival are not good.

Only if he reaches the age of 6 will they consider operating on him and implanting a VNS pacemaker. He actually explained that he wasn’t sure the boy would even live long enough to get there.

And of course, that same month Popeye stopped being able to walk.

Letting Go of Popeye

Service dog Popeye - saying his last farewells to Dolev before being put down

That day we told the children what was going to happen. Popeye would go live in the ‘big farm in the sky’ and not come back. They were little: five, three and a half, and three years old.

Then an amazing thing happened.

We took the kids to the Vet’s office to say their farewells. Dolev, who didn’t communicate too much even with AAC, sat down in front of Popeye and stroked him for a long time. He mumbled random syllables that were known only to both of them. And Popeye listened as I’ve never seen him listen.

At the end of their ‘conversation,’ the Dolev got up, as if he had completed an important task, and left the room.

A few minutes afterward, the vet put Popeye down.

Our dog has completed what he came to do in the world. And our son has come full circle with him.

Shira - Hospital Nurse, blogger, special needs parent

Shira – Developmental nurse, Parent guide, Mother of four

It takes a village to raise a child

I recommend looking for support groups with experienced special needs parents. For this purpose, we have opened another Facebook group for parenting skills. This is in addition to our Stem cell therapy support group for families looking for information about the treatment based on umbilical cord blood or stem cells. Both of these groups are mainly for Hebrew speakers but you are welcome to join if you think it can benefit you.

For those who are not active on Facebook, join our silent WhatsApp group, where you will receive notifications about events we organize. Again most of these will be in Hebrew, but you can catch the odd English lectures. You can find recordings of these on our youtube channel.

There are many experienced parents in social media groups. You are also welcome to contact us of course for parental guidance or any of our other services.

Our Blog

The Autism Essentials Israel blog is written by Hagai and Shira Reiner, two parents of children with special needs – autism, epilepsy, and more. We focus on the essentials of raising special needs children in Israel, but much of our content will be relevant globally


Sign up to our newsletter to receive our articles directly to your email!

עוצב באמצעות

Leave a Reply