Animal Therapy Helping Autism

Dogs earned their nickname as “man’s best friend” for a reason; in this case, dogs have been a vital part in helping autistic children and adults lead healthy lives. All parents want their children to fit in at school and lead the same life as any other child, but this genetic disability has caused many parents and children to have to look at life a little differently. Animal therapy has provided not only physical benefits, but many emotional benefits to children around the world. Even though there is no cure for autism, animals have proven to be the next best thing.

Dogs are not the only animal being utilized for animal therapy. Animals such as horses, cats, rabbits, or dolphins have shown they can provide the same benefits as dogs can. Physical interactions with animals have helped people with autism increase their strength and coordination. What’s even more valuable, is the relationship they make with the animals. In as little as one therapy session, autistic children and adults feel more self-confident and happy. According to Colleen Dolnick, who has a 10-year-old son with autism, “Animals can relate to these children. And these children, who have a hard time relating to peers, can really relate to these animals.” (qtd. in Everyday Health)

4 Paws For Ability is the first organization, in the United States, to introduce service dogs to autistic children. Service dogs are trained to live out their lives with people with disabilities while therapy dogs provide comfort to people in nursing homes, hospitals, etc. 4 Paws policy is to provide a service dog to each and every family who applies and has a safe home for the dog to live in. Problems like wandering, lack of sleep, and public outbursts have been fixed just because of one brave animal. Autistic children become attached at the hip to their newfound best friend. They form bonds that will last a lifetime. 4 Paws For Ability has helped millions of children and adults with autism and their website has the success stories to prove it ( Kelly Camm, development director for 4 Paws For Ability, was even able to answer some questions about the organization and its work with service dogs.


Q: What are some of your biggest successes you’ve had with clients and animal therapy?

A: We just placed our 1,000th service dog this month (April 2016). We have had hundreds of families tell us that our service dogs have saved their children’s lives through our search and rescue training (for many kids with Autism and other developmental disabilities who are runners/flight risks), seizure alert, diabetic alert, peanut allergy alert.


Q: What was your inspiration for starting this organization? 

A: Karen started 4 Paws as a result of her own frustrating experience in getting a service dog. She was turned down by multiple agencies because they said she was too disabled. She was vent dependent at the time, which frightened them.


Q: What is the cause for all your success with your organization? 

A: We continually strive to take the “dis” out of disability….we train dogs to help any disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: Autism, seizure disorders, diabetes, mobility issues, hearing impairments, peanut allergy, etc. We also have no minimum age requirement and no geographic restriction. Our openness to serve differentiates us from all other service dog agencies and is the cause for our success and the great demand for our highly-trained, customized service dogs.


Q: Where do you see your organization in the future? 

A: Continually growing and evolving to help as many people in the disability community that we can.


Q: Where are some of your therapy programs located? 

A: The majority of our dogs are trained at our Ohio facility. We also have a trainer in Alaska that trains dogs to help Alaskan families so they don’t have to make the expensive and long trip to Ohio to receive their dogs.


Q: How do you find suitable animals for autism assistance therapy? 

A: We have our own breeding program, which is another reason our overhead rate is so low. By handpicking males and females that have good genes and suitable temperament, we are able to use our donors’ money wisely. Even with our own breeding program, only 60 percent of our dogs become service dogs. When we started out, we were able to find enough qualified dogs in rescues and shelters (although the dropout rate was higher) but with placing over 100 dogs a year now, rescuing is no longer feasible. Our goal is to help children with autism to the best of our ability, and our breeding program has been the most efficient way to do this.


Q: Why do people choose to take part in animal therapy and why do some people choose not to take part in animal therapy? 

A: Some people simply do not like dogs or dog hair. Some people do not want to take on the responsibility of having a dog and caring for it in good times and in bad.


Q: What are some of your volunteer opportunities? 

A: Many people enjoy coming to our facility in Xenia, Ohio, and playing with puppies in our Puppy House. Others take on the responsibility of opening their homes to a service dog in training or a breeding dog. College students take our dogs in for a semester and socialize them on their campuses and surrounding areas. Our volunteers are one of the reasons our overhead rate is so low compared to most charities (4 Paws is 11.4% vs. the average charity of 25%).


Q: What do people get out of volunteering (emotional effects, different outlook, etc)? 

A: We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers’ loving care and attention. They get intrinsic rewards from caring for our dogs–unconditional love and acceptance plus the knowledge that they are helping someone less fortunate than themselves.



Animal therapy is more popular than you may think. Celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Ian Somerhalder, and Amanda Seyfried have all voiced their support for animal assistance therapy. They are supporting a cause that continues to better the lives of not only autistic children but also children with disabilities such as being blind or deaf. Parents and siblings also thank animal therapy for taking extra stress off their shoulders. With a service dog, they don’t have to guard their child 24/7. The long-term benefits of animal therapy are impeccable and that’s why it became a worldwide phenomenon.

Picture what your life would be like if you found out your sibling or best friend had autism. You would worry constantly about whether or not they were going to have an outburst, if they were going to fit in at school, or if they were going to be able to live a normal life. By getting them a service dog, you wouldn’t have to worry about if they are going to wander off or if they are going to be lonely. It is every parents’ dream to be able to see the smile on their child’s face. And animal therapy has made those dreams come true.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Send us a tweet @CelebMix or @CelebMixCares. Also visit 4 Paws For Ability’s website at

Written by CelebMix