Published Thursday, 16 January 2014
Jack the golden retriever is the latest addition to the McFall household and he has a very special job - supporting four-year-old Zack who has autism.
His parents Jenni and Michael McFall said it's making a real difference.
"We have noticed even in the short time we have got the dog Zack is a lot more relaxed when he's walking on his own and tethered to the dog," they told UTV.
"So that's definitely a real advantage to us. The other thing I see as a benefit to us is just the companionship, so with Zack having Jack around the house I think it will bring him out of himself a little bit more and make him a bit more relaxed really."
Geraldine McGaughey from Assistance Dogs NI, which promotes the benefits of canine ownership for people with disabilities, said there are a number of advantages to the scheme.
"It will encourage their social skills and interaction," she said.
"There's also the safety element in terms of a child that would bolt the dog is trained to sit and the child can't go any further because it's attached to the dog."
Assistance dogs undergo lengthy training and trainer Neil Powell said it takes a special kind of pooch to make the grade.
He added: "We're only scratching the surface with our dogs. We have two dogs currently trained to assist two young people in wheelchairs who have very limited ability of their limbs and these two dogs we've trained are capable of not only helping them by lifting things off the ground, but they're almost tuned into 'what do you want me to do next?'
Meanwhile the McFalls said they hope as Zack and Jack grow up together, they will learn from each other and ultimately become one little boy's best friend.
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