Lady puts her best paw forward to help autistic friend

By: Michael Kirby
-A +A
Lady is just like any loveable family dog. The big happy golden retriever moves around the living room excited about a visitor. Lady is a service dog for an autistic 8-year-old boy, Riley Pitz. She is all about fun and games and chasing tennis balls, until the green backpack vest goes on her back, then it's all business. Now she is working, taking care of Riley. Lady is specially trained to be tethered to Riley when he goes out into a world that doesn't fully understand his disorder. Lady is 5 years old and for the last three years, has lived with the Colfax family -- and she fits right in. Tim and Nicole Pitz have two sons Brendan, a junior at Colfax High School and, of course, Riley. Lady came to the family from a facility in Oregon that trains dogs to care for autistic children. At the time the Pitzes obtained Lady, the price of specially trained dogs cost about $10,000, now three years later the cost is over $15,000. Through generous donations from a community that rallied to assist the Pitz family, local charities and individual donations helped raise the money to purchase the dog. The Colfax Kiwanis, The Colfax Lions, The Arp Foundation, Harris Welding, Flyers and many private local donors helped raise money for Lady. Local fundraisers were also held to raise money. The assistance Lady provides for Riley is flight-risk protection. When Riley goes out in public and gets around a lot of people he becomes over-stimulated and wants to take off and run. A simple visit to the store can become a trying event. This is where Lady comes in. "Lady and Riley are tethered together, I control her and she controls him," said Tim Pitz. If Lady senses that Riley is getting too wound up and overexcited, she is trained to stop Riley and keep him from running away. Lady can tell when Riley needs a little help and she just stops until Riley is able to continue. "Before we got Lady, we had to constantly hold onto Riley because he would want to run away when we were out, and he's strong, fast and determined," said Nicole Pitz. "If Lady thinks he needs to stop and relax, she just plants her paws, stops and doesn't let Riley go any further." "The great thing about having Lady is it gives Riley some independence, we don't have to constantly have to hold on to him," said Tim Pitz. "Even at home Lady has a calming effect on Riley, and the two have really bonded, they're friends, best friends." "Lady can really sense Riley's feelings and she will lay with him when he's sick and if Riley wakes up during the night he'll call for her," said Nicole Pitz. The only time that Lady is not with Riley is when he attends school, where Riley rarely exhibits any behaviors. Service dogs trained to help autistic children are a relatively new concept in the United States but a little more common in Canada. Lady was only the second dog trained for autistic children by Autistic Service Dogs of America. Family Circle Magazine has recently contacted the Pitzes and has an article planned for an upcoming issue on autism and Riley and Lady's wonderful relationship. It is amazing to see Lady work as she protects her little man, and the relationship she has with each member of the family. One thing is for sure, Lady earns her keep.