Dalmatian With Heart Shaped Nose Is Learning To Be An Assistance Dog
An unique Dalmatian with a heart-shaped spot on his nose is training to be an assistance dog for his owner's autistic son.
Two-year-old Rorschach was originally bought when he was a pup as a present for owner Joanne Dower's husband Rick, 35, but he's now training to help the couple's son Ethan, 10, with his disability.
Joanne, from Brisbane, Australia, said: "I'm incredibly proud of how far he has come in training because initially we didn't think he would be an option for us.
"Two years ago, I made plans to get my husband, Rick, a dalmatian for Christmas as a companion after he finished a 12 month post in the military.
"I was emailing a breeder to ask if she had any pups available - she had one left but said he wasn't very breeder-worthy because if their spots or patches form together, they're not desirable for show dogs.
"She asked if a patch on his face would be an issue but I thought the more spots the better so she sent me a photo of him and that was when I noticed the spot on his nose was shaped like a heart.
"When he was five weeks old, I planned a surprise visit for Rick to meet him.
"We instantly fell in love with the heart shape on his nose - I knew from that picture that he was going to be a very special dog.
"He definitely has a big heart externally but also internally as he's now training to help Ethan."
Ethan was diagnosed with autism when he was four and Joanne learnt soon after that Assistance Dogs Australia were running workshops showing how dogs can be a great aid to autistic children.
After attending a few sessions, he mum decided a dog would be a good help for her son and so the family decided to get a black Labrador, Bella.
Incredibly, Ethan went from being non-verbal to verbal within two weeks of having her.
"Bella helped with Ethan's autism because he has sensory issues with things such as noise in shopping centres - she helps keep him calm and can tell when he's showing signs of anxiety," said Joanne, a retail worker.
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"She will start to bump Ethan's hands and if he doesn't respond, then Bella will take a seat with him and put her body weight on him to bring them back into mindfulness and out of what's going on.
"It's absolutely incredible how much animals can help people with autism and the trainers are fantastic."
Unfortunately, Bella had to have surgery on her leg two years ago and had to retire as Ethan's helper - which is where Bella came in.
Mum-of-two Joanne said: "The assistance dog team came in to see if they could swap Bella out for a new dog but we were happy to keep her because she'd now become part of the family.
"But we mentioned to them that we will own a dalmatian puppy soon and they wanted to meet him to see whether he had the right temperament to become an assistance dog.
"He ended up being perfect and began training as their first non-labrador or golden retriever. We were all excited to watch him grow."
Rorschach reached the advanced stages of his training in December last year.
Before the pandemic, he was training in shopping centres and prisons and will soon be able to continue once the pandemic is over.
Joanne added: "If lockdown didn't happen, Rorschach probably would have completed training by now - it takes six to nine months but at the moment we're not putting a time limit on it because we're quite happy to see where it all goes.
"Assistance Dogs Australia also have a PTSD programme which is amazing because my husband has just been diagnosed with it, so Rorschach will have a dual responsibility to help him and Ethan.
"I always thought dalmatians were fire dogs so I thought Rorschach would be well-suited to Rick, being a soldier, and that he would have lots of energy.
"But he's completely the opposite - he thinks he's a lap dog and is a character and a half.
"Apparently even the prison guards have a big soft spot for him in training and give him lots of sneaky cuddles and treats.
"I like how gentle he is - even our cat bullies him because he's too sweet and he cares about people too much to be mean. He has such a big heart."
Featured Image Credit: Caters
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